Developed by Digital Sun Published by 11 bit studios Reviewed on Switch (also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One)
Moonlighter is a brand new indie game from developer Digital Sun Games. Originally released on May 29 on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 for $29.99, it has just been released on the Switch. It is an action RPG game with rougelike elements that create an engaging and fun experience. The random-generated dungeon system along with quality gameplay results in a well-defined game. Everything about the game is satisfying and represents the world of Moonlighter well. The graphics, music, story, and mechanics combine to create a really special game that is worth playing.
The player controls a young adventurous man named Will. He is the shopkeeper of Moonlighter who can’t help but explore dungeons to uncover the secret of the giant locked gate. No one knows what is beyond the giant gate and many have died trying to figure that out. Will wants to solve the riddle, no matter the cost. In the first twenty minutes of the game, you learn all there is to know about the two aspects of the game: adventuring and being a shopkeeper.
Adventuring is pretty self-explanatory. You go into a gate to explore, kill enemies, grab loot, and adapt to the dungeon. What I found really cool is that you cannot carry an infinite amount of items. So you must manage your backpack with the best items you come across. What makes these dungeons deadly is that they are technically a one-way ticket. Once you go in, you cannot leave unless you die or spend a pretty penny to leave the dungeon. Dying means losing everything you have collected in the dungeon. Alternately, you can spend money to leave with all your loot. However, returning to the dungeon means going through a whole new set of rooms with a different layout.
After leaving the dungeon with all the loot, the game goes into the second major aspect of its gameplay: being a shopkeeper. Being an adventurer hasn’t stopped Will from performing his merchant duties. Once back at the shop, this is the chance to gain money. You must sell the items you found in the dungeon. The fun part is that you have no idea of what any of the items are worth until you sell them. Paying attention to customers will let you know if you overpriced an item, undersold an item, and if you are selling an item at the perfect price. It may sound boring selling items while raising and lowering prices. However, it is engaging and fun to decide what to sell. Certain items can help with customers giving tips or keeping thieves at bay. Money is needed to buy better equipment and upgrades to the shop. Nothing is cheap and this makes it a priority to keep going back into the dungeon.
It helps that Moonlighter has a charm that is unique in every aspect. The graphics look a little retro, with pixels clearly visible, but the animations on Will, the enemies, the townsfolk, and even little things like a banner flapping in the wind or smoke are highly fluid. The graphics and animations are gorgeous. Digital Sun Games nailed the feel of Moonlighter. The Switch version suffers from various framerate hitches that causes the game to “skip”, which can be a bit off putting if you lose track of your on screen position. The sounds and music are spot on. The music is subtle and memorable with tunes that you can hum. This create atmosphere for both types of gameplay in all the environments you encounter.
Moonlighter is a blast to play but it can get repetitive and less engaging once you learned all the tricks the game has to offer. You learn most of the mechanics during your first dungeon. You’ll get used to dungeon crawling, leaving to sell your stuff, then buying better equipment and upgrades to your shop. Rinse and repeat. The motivation to keep going is to see what is in the final dungeon. While it serves as a good motivator, it leads into the second problem with Moonlighter: the game’s pacing is an issue.
What keeps you advancing in the game is your equipment. The first set of armors and weapons give you a sense that it is doable. The prices aren’t too high to discourage you, but not so low that you feel it is too easy. However after that first dungeon, the grinding starts. Tier-two armor, weapons, and shop upgrades are pricey. It’ll leave you grinding through the second dungeon to get enough money to pay for everything just to beat the second dungeon boss. It only gets worse from there and every dungeon will have you staying longer than the last. For me, it would have worked perfectly if the pacing stayed the same throughout all the dungeons. Since I spent more and more time as I continued into each dungeon, I got burned out. Go to the dungeon then back at the shop. Dungeon, shop, dungeon, and shop. These two gameplay elements are fun, but I just wished that the prices of in-game items were lowered so that the game could continue at a reasonable pace.
These two issues are minor when compared to the whole of the game. It’s satisfying killing enemies. It’s fun being a merchant. The nature of the game is well suited for portable, on the go gaming especially. Discovering little tactics in the game is especially rewarding. In that area where Moonlighter falls short, it makes up for its solid gameplay mechanics.