Moonscars is the latest Metroidvania offering on the Nintendo Switch. You play as Grey Irma, a warrior seeking the truth behind her life and how it intersects with a mysterious being known as the Sculptor. Grey Irma and many other warriors are what’s known as clayborne warriors, meaning they are effectively spirits that occupy a clay sculpture before moving onto the next sculpture when destroyed.
Anyway let’s explore the dark, grim world of Moonscars and see how it stacks up!
As the word suggests, Metroidvanias are influenced by the Metroid and Castlevania series. Some are more akin to the Metroid games (i.e. more emphasis on exploration and traversal progression), whereas others are closer to the gameplay found in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (i.e more emphasis on levelling up and challenging combat). Moonscars is very much on the Castlevania end of the Metroidvania spectrum, sitting snugly alongside titles such as Blasphemous and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Moonscar’s story is very original and full of strangely enjoyable schadenfreude. It is also the first time I’ve seen clay featured this prominently in a title since ClayFighter 63 ⅓ on the Nintendo 64!
The game world of Moonscars (which I actually don’t know the name of, despite trying my best to find out!!) is packed full of secrets. On almost every screen, something catches your eye and you are rewarded for having a good old poke around. This was really enjoyable, and also crucial to the gameplay experience because Moonscars is bloomin’ hard! There is a magic metre which you fill up with ‘Ichor’, and this can only be obtained by defeating enemies. This forces you to go on the offensive because you need Ichor to heal as well as use special attacks. Running away from a tough battle will simply not cut it!
Lastly, the aforementioned dark and grim feel of Moonscars is really brought to life with the almost crayony art-style. Take one look at the environment surrounding Grey Irma and it’s hard not to share in her despair and loneliness as the story pans out over a beautiful but bleak backdrop.
- Original and intriguing story
- Plenty of secrets and discoveries
- Beautiful environment art
On the flipside to the positives in Moonscars, there are some curious design choices which definitely prohibit one’s enjoyment. For starters, Grey Irma’s sprite is strangely small amongst everything else. I often found myself losing track of where she was in the heat of the many battles, and when the combat is as punishing as it is, this is a huge flaw. In keeping with this slightly odd field of vision, it did feel like some areas of the game resembled the old arcade version of Donkey Kong where you can see Mario at the bottom and the big man himself at the top, but in Moonscars, instead of Donkey Kong, it might be a key or an item you need to collect perched at the top of the screen. This presumably is not the feeling that the developers were going for and is also quite repetitive in nature.
I also feel that in trying to attain a game full of levelling up and abilities, developer Black Mermaid has gone a little too far and made Moonscars into an incredibly confusing and inaccessible experience. I’ve already touched on the Ichor, but there are also two or three other currencies in the game, all of which do different things. This wouldn’t be such an issue if they were underpinned by some clear tutorials and menu system, but all of the pop-ups that explain how things work are full of wooden, vague dialogue, and the in-game menu is hard to navigate through that lacks in textual detail. After a good few hours of ploughing my way through the challenging combat and bosses, I still wasn’t 100% sure on exactly what everything did!
The map. Don’t get me started on the map. In keeping with the overly-basic menu, the map is basically a load of faint lines which are almost impossible to read. Normally it’s great to use the map as an exploration tool in Metroidvanias but here, it provides little use at all.
- Field of vision doesn’t quite feel right
- Overly convoluted stats and abilities
- Useless in-game map
Final Score: 6/10
Oh Moonscars, you promised so much yet unfortunately fell short in some key areas. However, I would say that this is a recoverable situation. The game could be rebalanced and enhanced with some patches but whether there is actually the need to do that is of course subjective, and others may not actually find the issues as problematic as I did. Having said all that, and to avoid ending on a downer, if you are a complete glutton for punishment and like to be challenged beyond normal realms, then I would recommend you giving this go. Moonscars certainly doesn’t spoon-feed or pander to anyone, and I’m sure there are quite a few masochists out there who would enjoy this, but I’m just not one of them.
Thank you for checking out our Moonscars Switch review, thank you to Humble Games (via Fortyseven Communications) for providing the review code and thank you to our Patreon Backers for their ongoing support: