Moonlighter is a visually stunning game that has you playing as a shopkeep by day and a dungeoneer by night, delving deeper into the four dungeons, defeating bosses and unlocking the next one. Upgrade your weapons and armour with the loot that you sell at your shop and go back to the dungeons stronger and ready for more action. This game will always have you considering your next move and if you’re worn out from all the action, you can always head back to the shop and sell what you’ve collected.
Below we have embedded our video review if you don’t feel like reading…
Moonlighter’s clash of genres is a satisfying mix of fast-paced action and relaxing shopkeeping simulation. However as you upgrade your shop, you need to keep your eyes peeled for shoplifters and take them down by tackling them. It’s oddly satisfying. When you’re selling you’re loot, you want to sell it for as much profit as possible, but not so much as to anger or disappoint your customers. There is also a supply and demand factor to be aware of, so if you sell too much of one item, the demand will decrease and you won’t be able to charge as much for it. This implementation of economics is very addictive, requiring you to learn the best value for each item and not be content selling them for the same price. The game remembers how much you had previously sold the item for, so you don’t always have to remember off the top of your head – especially considering that there are a lot of different items to pick up. All the while at night time when exploring the dungeons for things to sell, it forces you to think about what you have collected and prioritises some items over others. This back and forth pull of mechanics blends so naturally together that it becomes very satisfying when you use your hard earned money to buy upgrades for your weapons or get more people to come to your town – it really makes you feel like you’ve earned it.
When people come to your town to set up shop, not only do you have to pay with money, but also with materials for weapon upgrades and enchantments. You can add specific weapons and upgrades to your wishlist, allowing you to see which materials to hold on to when you’re in a dungeon. You can also spend your money on upgrades for your shop, giving you bonuses like: more space in your shop, customers tipping you at the counter or a new bed to give you more health when you go out dungeoneering.
Moonlighter doesn’t hold your hand throughout the game, nor does it spoon-feed you information. The first 30 minutes gives you just enough to let you figure out the rest yourself. It’s all about trial and error, figuring out what the right price is for certain items, how enemies move and attack, as well as how certain mechanics work in unexpected situations.
Moonlighter’s combat can be punishing, but you never feel as though you have been cheated. When you die, you simply lose what you have collected in that runthrough, apart from the first five items in your bag. You can also teleport out of a dungeon by holding down the Y button, allowing you to go back, sell your loot and buy items or upgrade your gear for another attempt. Don’t expect to make it through a dungeon on your first run-through, earning money and upgrading your gear is the main pull of the game.
The risk-reward factor plays a huge role in Moonlighter. There is always that moment in the game when you only have a quarter of health left and you enter a room and say to yourself ‘I can do this’… only to die and lose most of your loot.
Moonlighter runs generally smooth, although we did notice a few hiccups at crucial moments. Unsurprisingly, this mainly happens when there are a lot of enemies on the screen acting independently at once. There was also the odd glitch that would happen in dungeons, like being stuck along the outskirts of a room and not being able to get out. When this happens, your only way out is to use your pendant to teleport back to the town. Hopefully this gets patched in a future update, but at the time of this review it does force us to drop it’s final score by a few points.
The boss battles can be quite difficult but very rewarding. The atmosphere is epic and really gets your blood pumping. Defeating them requires precise reflexes and remembering their patterns, just like most bosses of this genre. However as mentioned before, the frame rate dips can cause some major frustration when taking on these monsters and can occasionally cost you the win.
The story in Moonlighter is always overarching, but it doesn’t try to shove it down your throat. The first 20 minutes of the game reveals back stories, motives and opportunities for plot and character development, but after that you are free to explore and sell at your leisure. That being said, there are the occasional subtle hints at sinister play at work, which keeps the player intrigued… especially those who love a good story. These story tidbits come in the form of journal notes left from previous explorers in the dungeons. This keeps the story development organic and natural, but you can ignore it if you wish.
Mysteries are solved the more you progress through the game, resulting in some satisfying ‘lightbulb’ moments. Moonlighter has some witty dialogue and can be funny sometimes, but other times the jokes can fall flat. Although, the Legend of Zelda reference at the beginning was a neat touch.
The plot develops after you complete each dungeon. New items and upgrades also become available as merchants come to the town as news spreads of your victories, as well as them being able to get their hands on new materials from the newly opened dungeons.
World / Level Design
There’s not too much that can be said about the world and level design in Moonlighter as it is a procedurally-generated dungeon crawler. It’s clear as to why Digital Sun chose to go this route, as it would’ve become very repetitive if you had to repeatedly traverse the same dungeon over and over just to collect loot to sell. However, being a procedurally-generated game can stifle the dungeons’ creativity. Each room is always a rectangle with familiar layouts. There are many obstacles, pitfalls and more to halt your progress, but it is always very two-dimensional.
Also, the town’s design may lack creativity, but the simple design choice does keep things easy before heading back into the dungeons. It just may have benefited from a few hidden secrets, as the NPCs tend to lack creativity in their dialogue.
Graphics / Art Direction
Moonlighter’s art direction replicates the games that it is clearly inspired from, using classic graphics and aesthetics similar to games such as A Link to the Past. The pixelated art style is vibrant and crisp, making it a beautiful game to look at. Many may argue that this art style has been overplayed in the indie scene, however it truly pays off in Moonlighter, with beautiful lighting and usage of colour that brings out a whole new style of its own.
There are some small touches that adds character to the town, such as the grass blowing in the wind or finer details on your gear. The enemy designs are clean and distinguishable, never resulting in confusion over what you should expect.
Music / Sound Design
The music often takes two different approaches: it’s either calming in the town or tense in the dungeons. The soundtrack is never a standout feature, but it certainly does its job. It’s nothing to get excited over, but it creates the right mood for the right situation, which is all you can really ask for. The music occasionally uses unconventional instruments in a pixel art style game, like a flute in the forest dungeon. Moonlighter’s soundtrack opted to not go the chip-tune route, which we believe was the correct choice.
Final Score 86%
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Moonlighter combines two very different genres in a very organic way. The game rewards you for delving deeper into the dungeons, and it is very satisfying seeing your hard work literally pay off. The art style is stunning and the music compliments it well. However, it would take a performance patch and the ironing out of a few bugs to cement this game as a true gem.
What do you think of Moonlighter? Will you be picking it up on Nintendo Switch or have you already played it and want to share your thoughts? Let us know in the Comments section below.
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