Video version
Hey everyone! How’s your fucking JANUARY going? Remember when I used to put these out in the run-up to Christmas? Well, I’ve been quite busy over the last while, and I’m sorry to say that GOTY has taken a back seat for the last month or so. Please don’t think that means I don’t take this stuff seriously though. Maybe work doesn’t begin in earnest on GOTY content until the last quarter of a year, but every time I play a game that I think might be a contender, I’m considering its place on the list, jotting down notes and sometimes even recording footage. Occasionally, I’ll have to abandon work on a post because of a surprise late release or something, and that happened in 2018 too, but fuck it, consider this an extra. It gives me an opportunity to address the lateness of this year’s list, but I also think this is one of the more interesting and obscure contenders for the list, and I wasn’t happy about the idea of cutting it.
The Missing was a bit of a surprise this year, coming from Hidetaka Suehiro’s new studio, White Owls, who had recently closed their Kickstarter campaign for an open-world supernatural mystery adventure game, seemingly targeted at Deadly Premonition’s die hard fanbase. It didn’t seem reasonable to expect anything of note to come from the team until that game was finished, but weeks later The Missing launched on all formats, and it’s really quite good.
You see, the driving force behind Deadly Premonition (at least for me) was figuring out whether or not the developers knew what they were doing. Whether it was just a shite survival horror game propped up by its influences and ambition, or if it was a sincere attempt to make something unique, compelling and impactful. And though I was massively satisfied by its closing hours (I still stand by it as one of my favourite ending sequences in a game), and it definitely made me like Swery, it didn’t completely give away whether he was a genius or just a lucky hack. The Missing reassures me that he’s someone worth taking an interest in.
The Missing can be easily overlooked as a grim Limbo clone. Another dark, surreal walk through some tired imagery and obtuse puzzles. The game is largely a subversion of this trope, though. This subgenre of adventure platformers have become synonymous with grizzly deaths. Limbo, Flashback, Another World, even Tomb Raider are all well known for how bleak and gruesome their Game Over screens are. The Missing decides the story should go on beyond that. As your character, J.J., is torn apart, burned or stabbed, losing limbs, their story continues. You can’t die on the Island of Memories. You just go on, dragging your body through a series of increasingly absurd puzzles.
Swery’s distinctively Osakan balance of eccentricity and down-to-earth charm comes through in the game’s increasingly absurd puzzles and sense of humour. I don’t really want to spoil the locations you’ll be taken to throughout the adventure, but it’s worth telling you that the game loses interest in grim, cold, dark environments after a wee while, and it’s very much in step with the kind of weirdness fans would hope for from a new Swery game.
This isn’t to say that The Missing is a joke game though. There’s a sincere attempt to express something positive about complicated social issues here, and those who have completed The Missing will know what I’m talking about. I don’t know how competently Swery delivers his message of support, but it’s something I can appreciate, and it’s encouraging to see him deliver a positive message while tackling controversial subject matter.
The Missing isn’t a terribly slick game, but it’s a really interesting little title. Controls can be frustrating, presentation can be clumsy and puzzles can be occasionally obtuse and tedious, but that’s something you accept when you play a Swery game. The pay-off is something that shows great respect to its influences while resulting in something peculiar and uniquely fulfilling. If you’re into weird little games, The Missing’s something I’d like to recommend for you.

Reviewed on Nov 21, 2023