Game Review: Moonlighter

Release date: 2018
Version played: Xbox One in 2018

[Please note: I doubt that anyone reading this cares, but in the interest of full transparency, it should be known that I backed this game back when it was on Kickstarter a year or so ago. I don’t stand to gain anything from this game doing well.]

Developed by Digital Sun games, Moonlighter is a hybrid dungeon crawler/rouge-lite/shop management/adventure game. Taking place in the land of Rynoka, players control Will, a descendant of the owner of the shop Moonlighter, and a merchant who longs to be a hero. With just his trusty broom he enters a nearby dungeon to try and solve the mystery of The Fifth Door, the nearby dungeon which has stood locked forever. Essentially, the gameplay is split into three areas: Will (the player character), Moonlighter (your shop) and the dungeons. Players will need to explore the dungeons to earn enough loot, to sell the loot to make money in order to upgrade Will’s gear and delve deeper into the dungeons.

+ charming pixel art style. There are also so many small animations that make the world feel real, such as grass moving as you wander through it, trees blowing in the wind, or your shop assisstant tying up her hair before her shift starts
+ I absolutely adore the soundtrack, taking all the best parts of 8-bit NES tunes, such as Chrono Trigger, and the more modern music from things like Wind Waker (for those of you playing at home, they are two of my favourite games)
+ incredibly rewarding gameplay loop of dungeon diving > selling excess loot at your shop > getting better gear > delving further into dungeons. So often I would have to decide whether to press on, and fill my 20-item bag, or return home safe. I usually made the right call, but the few times I did press on, only to be defeated, were entirely my own fault
+ the weapons in particular are able to fit the skillset of any player, and Will can hold two at a time. I used a Spear and Bow combo for the most part, before finally getting the materials needed to craft the strongest Big Sword, because as we all know: bigger sword, bigger reward. Also available are a short sword/shield set and a pair of short-range but high damage gloves. All weapons come in the form of raw power, or with an added elemental boost (again, I’m always all in on raw power)
+ upgrading your shop, or adding a handful of new shops/NPCs to the town really helps feel like you are an important character. There is enough variety in the way NPCs look that the town of Rynoka feels like it is coming alive with every step of progress you make

– currently you cannot respawn bosses, which means there is limited replay value, and a few achievements are only obtainable once per game. Since there is only one save slot, that means they are completely missable if you don’t know about them beforehand

> in many ways, this reminded me of the first time I played Bastion. And trust me, that’s a good comparison for me to make

Should you play this game: Although the limited (if not entirely missing) replay value is so disappointing, in every other aspect this is a phenomenal game. The story keeps you guessing, managing the store can be almost as stressful as the dungeons themselves, and the joy of making that perfect sale, defeating that powerful enemy or finally opening the 5th door will keep you wanting to play all night. I absolutely loved this game.

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