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Fern, the main character of Rusted Moss, swings using a grappling hook by attaching to a ceiling in this 2D platformer Image: faxdoc, happysquared, sunnydaze/Playism

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Rusted Moss is Hollow Knight with a bungee cord

This indie Metroidvania’s unique grappling hook is capable of incredible things

Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

In Metroidvanias, it’s often about the destination, not the journey.

You might find a new upgrade or a new area you haven’t explored before, and that’s exciting, but the path you took to get there just involved a lot of running and jumping, which isn’t terribly interesting. Newer examples, like the Ori games and Metroid Dread, have emphasized the importance of movement — that it needs to feel as satisfying to move around the world as it does to find a new, shiny piece of treasure.

Rusted Moss follows that same model, giving you unparalleled control over how you progress through its labyrinthian world with the help of a super fun (and sproingy!) grappling hook.

Developed by a core team of just three people, Rusted Moss offers a twist on fairy folklore, with a post-apocalyptic, grungy vibe. The gameplay both follows and dramatically departs from the many Metroidvanias that came before it. While it mostly focuses on 2D platforming – a long-held standard – it also introduces 360 aiming, a crucial element in combat as well as traversal. There’s constantly a reticle on the screen, letting you fire off rockets or charged railgun shots in any direction, even while you’re moving. But that reticle also controls the aiming of your grappling hook, which quickly becomes the signature feature of Rusted Moss.

Fern, the main character in Rusted Moss, avoids a blast of 2D bullets in this 2D platforming game. Image: faxdoc, happysquared, sunnydaze/Playism

Most video game grappling hooks are pretty predictable when it comes to getting you from one point to another. Either they act like the hookshot in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which sends you on a direct path to your target, or they act like the grappling beam in Super Metroid, which offers more of an Indiana Jones-style swing. Rusted Moss’s grappling hook is somewhere in the middle. It has true elasticity, which means that you’ll be dragged more quickly toward walls that are farther away.

Many of Rusted Moss’s platforming puzzles revolve around utilizing the grappling hook in creative ways. In one puzzle, I had to jump off a cliff, fire my grapple in mid-air, and use the momentum of the sproing to launch myself onto a much higher platform. It required precise timing, not just in terms of when I shot the grapple out, but when I released it, ensuring that I wouldn’t still be tethered by the time I reached maximum velocity on my upward trajectory. Because these interactions are not canned, they can lead to frequent moments of trial and error, where I was trying to get the angle and timing just right. Eventually nailing the entire equation felt amazing, but if you’re the sort to get frustrated easily by platforming puzzles like this, Rusted Moss offers a number of accessibility features to help you overcome its more finicky challenges.

I’m also impressed by how Rusted Moss keeps nestling in new ways to move through its world, many of which are never fully explained to the player. A few of the weapons at my disposal, like the shotgun and rocket launcher, have their own impact on my physical momentum, and I can use them to get some extra torque or lift on a tricky jump. While this seemed intimidating early on, after a few hours I was able to move through areas in seconds that had previously taken me minutes.

Because of the high skill ceiling for the mobility tools, the game’s developers have wisely built in a number of speedrunning challenges (all optional), allowing truly dedicated fans to show off their remarkable skills. Here’s just one example that blew me away:

Rusted Moss’s unique mobility options may be overwhelming at first, but for those looking for a unique and challenging spin on the Metroidvania 2D platforming genre, this game might get its hook into you faster than you’d expect.

Rusted Moss was released on April 12, 2023 on Windows. The game was reviewed on a Steam Deck. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.