Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Digital Sun
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch (reviewed)
Release: 11/05/2018 (Switch)
Welcome to my latest obsession. Truth be told, I've done little else for the past two weeks. Moonlighter is part-dungeon crawler, part-shopkeeper sim, and the combination of the these two drastically different styles of gameplay makes for one incredibly addictive experience.
The small village of Rynoka is located just outside the Gates. No one knows what these Gates are or where they came from, but one thing is certain: great riches await inside for those brave (or perhaps foolish) enough to go find them.
When Will's parents died, they left him the Moonlighter, a store in Rynoka. During the day, Will sells goods and manages the shop; at night, he explores the dungeons behind the Gates, gathering treasures to sell the next day. But more than anything, Will seeks to uncover the truth behind the Gates and fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a hero.
The Tip & The Top
The first thing you notice when playing Moonlighter is how gorgeously fluid the 16-bit inspired graphics are. In fact, a large part of the charm of this game is how much it manages to accomplish with very little. The procedurally-generated dungeons in particular are a very simple experience. With only three basic moves, Will must slash, block, and dodge his way through a variety of enemies. It's about learning the attack patterns of your foes rather that wowing yourself with visually impressive combat.
The dungeons seem designed to keep you right on the edge of your risk/reward tolerance. Will can only carry a certain number of items in his backpack, and if he dies, he drops everything. The prudent might simply fill their backpack and leave the dungeon to fight another day, but I was always drawn-in by the swan song of "just one more." Yes, my backpack is full, but if I go into just one more room, I might find even better loot! Yes, my health is mostly gone, but I'm sure I can handle just one more room!
Needless to say, I died many times.
The store also often seems like one big gamble. When you price an item for the first time, it's a pure guess. With no way of knowing how much it's actually worth, you have to gauge the reactions of your customers to find out if your price is too expensive, too cheap, or Goldilocks just right. Some players might start their prices high in order to avoid financial losses, but I always erred on the cheap side (after all, a low-priced sale still brings in more money than no sale at all).
"Just one more" rears its head the strongest when I try to turn the game off. After closing up shop, it's the perfect time to call it a night. But no, "just one more dungeon run," I think. Then I could stop, but I might as well sell the loot I just got, right? Then another "just one more dungeon run." It's this cyclical series of large and small gambles and short- and long-term strategizing that helps make Moonlighter a simple, yet obsessively addictive experience.
The Flip & The Flop
Towards the end, my love affair with Moonlighter sadly started to unravel. I began noticing glitches in the later dungeon stages. Once I fell through the floor where there was no hole. Several times after a monster would drop an item, the item would fly around the room by some mysterious power before zooming out the door (headed presumably for a higher-class dungeon with fewer looters). It was very strange. And if I'm being honest with myself, I would've liked a bit more variety in the dungeons.
In the end, the store half of the game was undone by my success. I had so much money, I was practically drowning in it. I'm talking millions upon millions of gold pieces. After upgrading my shop, weapons, and armor to the max and investing all I could in Rynoka, I ran out of things to do. With so much money and no more use for it, I simply stopped opening the store. There was just no need. In essence, I "beat" the store half of the game long before I beat the dungeon half.
Final Grade: A-
Despite a few flaws in the end, Moonlighter remains one of the most fun, engaging games I've played in a long time. Don't let its simplicity fool you. There's a lot to be had in this beautifully understated title. Highly recommended!