- Developer : Digital Sun
- Publisher : 11 Bit Studios
- Release Date : 05/11/2018
- Review Code provided by 11 Bit Studios
- Price: £22.49 / $24.99
Dancing in the moonlight
In 1980, Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman developed and freely distributed a dungeon crawler named Rogue. Over the years Rogue has spawned a myriad of games with similar gameplay and mechanics and now uses it’s name-sake to define two different game genres; Rogue-like and Rogue-lite.
Rogue-like is a term used for games that share almost exactly the same gameplay stylings as the original Rogue, these include but are not limited to; turn-based combat, randomly generated maps, rewarding players for going out of the way and exploring and perma-death.
Rogue-lites tend to share some of the same mechanics but try to bring something a little different to the table. Moonlighter, developed by Digital Sun and published by 11 bit studios is one such game.
All aboard the Moonlight Express
Let me say right now, I adore Rogue-lites. Exploring randomly generated, often Metroidvania-esque, areas. The tight, no nonsense, combat and the risk/reward nature of squeezing the absolute most out of every run. All the while trying not to get too greedy and bite of more than you can chew against often extremely challenging enemies and bosses thrills me. More regularly than my body would like, I find myself up into the wee hours of the morning saying to myself “Just one more run. I’ll go to bed after one more run. I’m gonna do it this time.”
Unlike most of my other beloved rogue-lite titles which employ a side-scrolling layout, Moonlighter has a top down view point akin to the 2D Legend of Zelda games and the similarities between the two don’t end there. Enemy and boss designs feel like they wouldn’t be out of place in Hyrule and the dungeons feel more like Zelda dungeons than the divine beasts in Breath of the Wilds did (Oh snap son!). All of this is clearly an intentional choice and it works really well with the colourful, pixel art style.
Unfortunately the overworld doesn’t quite have the same character and charm as the dungeons. The town, although full of NPC’s that the player can talk to, only have a hand full of shared dialogue lines and don’t really seem to have much of a character about them, all in all the town just seems a bit empty. But who cares! We aren’t here for a rich story. We’re here for some sweet gameplay and for the most part that’s what we’ve got.
By day I’m a simple shop keep, by night – epic dungeon explorer
The action’s very simple and as I stated early; highly addictive. Armed with his trusty broom the player controlled character; Will, is thrown straight into the first of four dungeons with the task of reaching the lowest floor, slaying the big scary boss and finding a key which will open the fifth dungeon where they keep all the really good stuff! All the while collecting treasure to sell back in the town so you can buy better weapons, armour and enchantments to make your runs through the various dungeons smoother.
There’s a few different builds to play around with. Armour wise you have fabric which lets you move faster whilst not being as protective as the others, Iron has more protection than Fabric but grants no speed boost and Steel which offers the most protection but reduced your speed.
There’s also a decent handful of weapons to play around with from run of the mill sword and shield combo (if you’re blocking you’re losing), to spears that give you better reach and the cost of damage, big boy swords that are slow but pack a punch and bow’s which have range but are very weak compared to everything else.
It may not have the most extensive list of weapons and skills but there is enough to play around with until you find a style that suits you. Spears, Bows and Fabric armour for the win!
The combat, like I said, is very simple, hit the bad things until they die, grab their stuff move on. The enemy designs are varied with a range of different attacks that means it doesn’t get boring and there is a great apprehension when you run into something new and think to yourself, “oh god, what’s this thing going to do.”
Certain rooms will reward you with a chest after you’ve cleared all the enemies and that’s where the brain aching puzzles come in. The contents of a chest, unlike the enemy drops, are often cursed with different effects that can be something simple as; this item must be placed on either the top or bottom row of your 5 by 4 backpack. Or on the left or right sides. Or it’ll destroy an adjacent items when you return to town. Or it’ll transform an adjacent item into itself. Once you start reaching the lower levels of the dungeons this inventory management becomes an extremely enjoyable headache of maximising the amount of high value items whilst trying not have anything get destroyed upon your exit.
Fight the boss under the beautiful moonlight, except it’s overcast, and raining, and we’re all in hell.
On the final floor of each dungeon waits the boss and I’ve got to say I was very underwhelmed by the bosses. Most of them I managed to beat on my first try with very little trouble, they don’t really have the feel of epic challenges that test all of the things you’ve learnt in that particular dungeon.
Most of them just involve working out their basic attack patterns and hitting them as much as possible when it is safe. I personally feel that Digital Sun missed a bit of trick not giving these bosses a bit more of a bullet hell feel as the majority fire out patterned projectiles at you which is very easy to dodge, ramp up the number and speed of those projectiles and the fights would have become more like frantically dodging and trying to grab a few hits where you can get them.
By night I’m a simple dungeon explorer, by day – epic shop keep…
When you finally decided that maybe it is a little to dangerous to go on, you can use your merchants pendant to teleport you out of the dungeon, at a small cost. It’s time to sell all the shiny things you’ve found!
Back in town selling all that sick loot isn’t as easy as going up to a vendor and bankrupting them by making them buy all your random baubles and trinkets. The titular Moonlighter is in fact Will’s own shop wherein the games good gaining gimmick takes shape in the form of a Merchant simulator.
The Moonlighter starts off with 4 display areas, which can be upgraded later to give you more space, to show off your looted goods and during a timed section customers will come in and wander around and judge whether you’ve priced your wares correctly by making a angry face (this is too damn pricy) a sad face (I can’t quite afford this) a happy face (the goldilocks zone where they’ll buy your goods) or the dreaded coins for eyes face (you’ve woefully under-priced this and just lost out on that cash money.)
Moonlighter keeps track of each items reactions compared to the price in the journal and saves whatever you last sold an item for, so once you’ve hit the sweet spot it’s easy to then just restock the item without having to faff around setting the price again. The whole shopkeeper sim is a neat gimmick but can become a pain in the backside when you’ve just hauled back a bag full of new items which you have no idea of the cost of and have to spend ages trying to figure out the right price to charge people. Definitely a deal breaker for more traditional Rogue-like/lite players that after their run want to get straight back into the action.
Dark side of the moon
The enjoyment I get out of Rogue-lites is the challenge, and the eventually overcoming of that challenge so when starting up a new game of Moonlighter and the game told me the recommended difficulty was hard, a wry smile crept over my face “I’m going to enjoy this” I thought to myself. The greatest achievements of games that want to be known for their high challenge level is that their difficult has to be fair.
I don’t mind constantly failing something if I know it’s completely my fault, if I got too greedy trying to do more damage instead of playing it safe, or diving into the unknown without being properly prepared. Next time I’ll be more prepared and my skill at the game will grow from it.
Unfortunately in some cases Moonlight isn’t very fair. The randomly generated nature of the dungeons mean that some rooms can be just down-right impossible to get through, like a room I encountered which was almost completely covered in poisonous goo and full of ranged enemies that covered the remaining safe floor in more poison, the doors locked and until the enemies are defeated you can’t access your inventory so I couldn’t equip more healing potions mid battle. Although that scenario didn’t happen often, it’s still very frustrating when it does and theirs nothing you could have done to stop it.
Nigh impossible rooms aside the other way Moonlight is artificially difficult is the plethora of bugs it has too offer particularly in the second dungeon.
These can range from slightly annoying; enemy drops randomly flying off the screen before you can pick them up and running through a door only to miss the door and disappear of screen. Too damn right frustrating, enemies attacks clipping you through geometry that you get then get stuck in and shot to death. Or opening a chest and have the game freeze when opening a chest, forcing you to amulet back home. Even more frustrating when you’ve just spent all your gold on upgrades and don’t have enough money to use said amulet.
Overall, despite it’s flaws, Moonlighter is a fun game. It may not be up there with the best Rogue-lites but it’s heavy Zelda comparisons and shop-keeping gimmick is sure to charm a lot of people, it certainly hooked me.
If you’re looking for a traditional, fast paced, tightly controlled Rogue-lite I’d steer clear, but if you’re after a new top down Zelda game with less story and more shop keeping, this is the title for you.
Verdict – would have been a solid
4 if not for those pesky bugs!