Moonlighter (PS4) Review

People who have read my reviews before will know that certain genres and games get me all giddy and excited. Genres such as puzzle games, strategy, simulations and point-and-click games. However, one genre hasn’t been brought up by myself before, even though it’s quite niche and I love it to death – The Retail Genre (That’s what I call it)! Starting with Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale on PC back in 2010, all the way to Shoppe Keep and Shoppe Keep 2 on PS4 and Steam – I love this style of game. Moonlighter, from Digital Sun, reminds me of all of the above but presented in a pixel-art style with its own spin on the core gameplay mechanics. So, after playing Moonlighter for about 15 hours, why is it one of the best games I played so far this year?

The mighty Dungeons.

Moonlighter is a rather unique title in the made-up genre which I mentioned above, in that it actually has an entertaining and engaging story to go along with what you are doing and why. Up among the stars of the night, there is a land which is as old as imagination itself. One night, five mazes, which are full of extraordinary treasures and deadly creatures, suddenly appeared upon this magical land. The inhabitants called them “The Dungeons”, these Dungeons were strange, ever-changing ruins of unknown lands.

Not long after they were discovered, the curious inhabitants decided to erect a small village near to these dangerous Dungeons, a village which became known as Rynoka. The village was basically comprised of both Heroes and Merchants, those who thrived for Glory and those who craved nothing more than Riches. However, try as they might, the Dungeons were too dangerous and had claimed many lives of the innocent, brave, and greedy who had ventured within their walls in search of their goal. As such, the Dungeons were closed and sealed.

Life for the citizens of Rynoka became hard, especially the young owner of the oldest merchants shop in town – Will. He had been gathering information and dreaming of opening up the elusive fifth Dungeon’s door – something which had never been done before. So, with his massive merchant’s backpack, he heads into the first Dungeon in search of answers, answers which only resulted in him barely escaping with his life. After speaking to Zenon, a wise old man, he tries once more to brave the Dungeon in search of ol’ Pete, a fellow adventurer who went in but never came back. This time, Will is more successful and find’s ol’ Pete – or what’s left of him – along with information on the five Dungeons.

After returning to town, Will has a new goal in life. He is going to venture through all four Dungeons, collecting items to sell in his shop to fund buying new armour and weapons for more trips into the Dungeons, and find all four keys to unlock the elusive fifth Dungeon. You will spend half your time adventuring and half pricing and selling your items to the townsfolk – it’s an amazing concept which games like Shoppe Keep have just started to offer in their second game yet I hadn’t fully experienced since Recettear many years ago.

Some rooms lock you in – The Binding of Isaac style.

Where do I begin with Moonlighter? The game can be split into three parts, so I’ll split up my review accordingly. We have the Dungeons, the Town, and the Shop.

The Dungeons:
As stated above, the game consists of five Dungeons – you must venture through each one as you progress up three floors and then face off against a boss before you can enter the next Dungeon. Sounds easy? Let’s just say that it took me about 4-5 hours before I could even get past the first Dungeon… If you’ve ever played The Binding of Isaac before, then the Dungeon’s core mechanics are almost the same – every time you jump through the portal and enter a Dungeon, the whole thing is randomised. Each floor has many different rooms with a large amount of them locking all the doors upon entry which won’t open until you kill everything that moves. This isn’t a big deal on the first floor, but as you got up, the enemies get much harder and can take you out with a few hits.

Once you reach a portal on each floor, you can either enter it and progress to the next floor or carry on looking around as enemies don’t respawn whilst you are still within the Dungeon. The third floor houses a bigger door which leads to the boss. These creatures are really well detailed and they all have their own set patterns of attack and require a lot of strategies and thought over brawn and mindless slashing. Upon taking out these evil fiends, you are given a chest full of goodies and one of the keys to the fifth Dungeon – which automatically unlocks.

One other thing about the level design here is that sometimes you encounter ‘Preview Dungeons’ within your Dungeon. For example, in the first Dungeon, you will sometimes stumble upon a forest room/rooms where you will encounter much stronger enemies and obtain more valuable loot. These are actually previews of the next Dungeon, as the second Dungeon is a forest. The only issue I had with these is the difficulty. If you’re not well equipt and you go into one of these then you can easily die and lose all of your items you have picked up. Well, not all of them as you keep the items in your pockets (the first row in your inventory) but lose everything else. You also have a choice to return to town or start a new random dungeon upon death.

This leads me to the most important part of why you actually risk your life in these dangerous Dungeons…

You have to manage your inventory or risk leaving things behind”

It’s all about the loot! As you work your way through each of the dungeons, wiping out all of the enemies and opening all of the chests you come across, you will stash everything into your massive backpack – or at least as much as you can. You don’t actually have a lot of room in your bag, which is a shame, an annoyance, and a cruel mechanic the developers have put within the game. Items stack on top of each other, so that’s good – if you find 3 iron bars but you already have 2, then it will stack to make 5 for example. However, not if the item has a set ‘curse’ upon it.

Curses can be either negative, positive, or neutral. A positive curse may convert whatever it is pointing to into the item the curse is on, upon returning to town. A negative one will instantly, or upon returning to town, destroy the item it’s pointing at. A neutral one will just say the item has to be placed in a certain location within your bag. There are many other types of cursed items, including ones which have a curse which breaks curses of ones it’s pointing at. Don’t worry – it all makes sense in-game, you just have to manually adjust your inventory sometimes so that nothing gets destroyed by a curse. Also, if an item is cursed then it can’t be part of a stack of the same item until the curse is removed – thus cluttering up your small inventory space.

Another thing you can do, after unlocking it, is selling your items whilst in the Dungeon. You don’t get anywhere near its actual value, but it saves leaving empty handed. Let’s say you find a chest and it had 10 items in it but you only have space for two. You can take the ones you want and sell whats left. Yeah, you may only get 50 coins for a 500 coin item, but the alternative is leaving it there and getting nothing – so thats cool!

Finally, you can leave the dungeon in one of two ways (once unlocked). You can either warp back to town as normal – this method has you leaving via a portal that closes behind you, meaning the next time you go into the Dungeon you must start it again in a new random layout. Alternatively, you can spend a lot more and leave via a portal which remains open. This one lets you jump back into the portal after you have taken your items back to your shop and then carry on from where you left. I used this one a lot but it is a lot more expensive than the other – but it is good if you’re outside the boss room and need to return to town for some health potions.

The Blacksmith – expensive and requires hard to find items, but worth it!

The Town:
Rynoka is a simple town with its citizens who walk around mindlessly with not much to offer in terms of help or hints. However, if you have enough gold then you can pay to have some important people come and take residence in your town in order to help you out. You can ask a Blacksmith, Potion Seller, Rare Items Merchant, Bank, and a Shop-Accessories Seller. Each of these has their own benefits and help you out as you go adventuring. The most obvious is the Blacksmith and the Potion Seller. These two allow you to use the items you bring back from the Dungeons to create weapons, armour, and health potions. The Potion Seller also lets you buy the items if you don’t have the ingredients for a lot more gold. You can also buy potions which reveals the map within a specific Dungeons, so you can see where the chests, enemies and portals are.

That about it for the town – you will use this generally to stock up on health items and to get new weapons. The Shop Accessories I’ll talk about in a minute and the Rare Items Merchant simply sells you items for stupid prices so you don’t have to go into the Dungeons for them. This is useful if you are trying to forge a new piece of equipment and are lacking one or two pieces. You will also be able to talk to Zenon in the Town, he will often guide you and regularly tell you to stop trying to get deeper into the Dungeons – has he got another agenda? I’m not that far into the game yet so I couldn’t answer that!

You operate both front and back of house. Be aware of thieves as well!

Your Shop (Moonlighter):
This is where you will spend a lot of your time outside of the Dungeons. You start off with a small shop, which can display four items at a time, but you can upgrade it later on so that it displays much more. Just like games such as Shoppe Keep, you must manually price all of your items which you wish to sell and then adjust accordingly based on how your customers react. The customers will react in one of four ways – they will either be Ecstatic, Happy, a bit Grumpy, or Angry. An Ecstatic customer means you have priced it way too low and should ensure you increase the price next time. A Happy customer thinks they bought it for the right price. A Grumpy one will still buy the item, but they aren’t happy with the price so you should lower it next time. Finally, an Angry customer will refuse to buy the item and you should reduce it asap if you wish to sell it.

On top of this, the more you sell an item, the more reputation it gets and the more in-demand it is. So, if you sell a lot of iron bars at 200 gold each, and the customers think it’s a great price, more people will come in wanting them. This means you can actually start to increase the price a little as you know people will buy them. On the flip side, if you get greedy and increase it too much, or if the customers are Angry, then the item will be less in-demand and you may have to under-sell it in order to regain hype around it.

I love this part of the game as I love micro-management games and ones which I have direct control over everything. Combined with your very detailed notebook which shows what priced everyone felt certain things at and info on what the item is, it really makes this part a lot of fun. Also, the Shop Accessory Merchant will sell you items which boosts the tips you receive on all items and how long people will queue for. These items aren’t cheap but if it gets you 20% extra via a tip for each item then that’s worth it to me!

A pool of health – you find one per floor and can charge up your health until it loses its power to do so.

So, as you can see, you go into the Dungeons to obtain items. You bring these items to town and use them to forge new weapons and armour. The excess goes into your shop which you then price up and sell for a profit to the townsfolk. The money you obtain is then used to upgrade your shop, entice new people to come and open shop in your town or to buy health items for the Dungeons. Then you head back out to the Dungeon and start again. Everything comes off the back of each other and it all works together perfectly with never a dull moment and always something to do. I guess from the outside looking in, some people may see this as a grind as your doing the same things to get better so you can get a bit further each time. To me, I see it as a Rogue-lite dungeon crawler with retail micro-management aspects.

As you progress further into the game, you unlock new Dungeons, gain the ability to take quests off citizens who visit your shop, and you’ll be constantly finding new expensive and rare items to sell and craft with. In the last week I’ve picked up this game hoping for a quick 30-60 minute go and ended up playing for hours each time – it’s really addictive and so much fun to play. I guess the one question is, can you please have it on the PS Vita as well?

Sneak Peek at boss number 1!

The game is delivered in a pixel-art style, yet it’s so beautiful. everything is easy to read on the big TV, all the characters have amazing detail and animations, and the lighting effects are great. In regards to the small details, just seeing your hair blow in the wind as you fight or move around is great. The bosses also look amazing and so unique within the game. Do I feel the game would have looked better in a non-Pixel style? Possibly. Don’t get me wrong, I love the art style and how it all looks as a whole, I’m just getting a little Pixel-arted out these days and would love to see something a little different every now and again.

The sound design is great – I love the music as I’ve had it on whilst writing this like I always do with games that have a great soundtrack. I’ve not looked online yet, but I hope they release the soundtrack for the game somewhere so we can purchase it. I know a lot of games on Steam do this, but I would love more of these indie titles to release their soundtracks on PSN as well. The music isn’t chiptune either, which is a nice change – it is comprised of various instruments and its sounds epic yet also cautious at the same time. The sound effects, such as your attacks, are great – they sound exactly how you would expect them to – no issues here.

Overall then, I image you will have gathered by my praise of the game, that I really enjoyed it. Just like PixelJunk Monsters 2 though, I can’t think of any faults. The pacing is perfect, the combat is solid, although a little unforgiving and requires a bit of a grind, the music is great, the story is interesting, and the whole concept is perfect for me as I love these types of games. Quite literally the only complaint I can think of is the fact you have to grind quite a bit in the first Dungeon due to items being very cheap for the most part, so you don’t get rich quick straight away. Not an issue for me but I can see some others finding it a bit of a pace-killer.

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Moonlighter is a great indie title about adventuring into the unknown in search of both riches and information. Whether you’re deep in combat within a dungeon, re-organising your backpack to make room for new items, or flogging your findings to the locals; the game will have you addicted to its gameplay and intrigued on what’s going to happen next in the story. Sure, the first few hours may be slow as you get to grips with how the selling works and you work out how much you can sell things for, but once you get that locked down you won’t want to stop playing. Fans of games like Shoppe Keep and Stardew Valley should buy this game right now. Everyone else, you should also buy this game right now – it’s very, very good!

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A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

Moonlighter

9.5

Final Score

9.5/10

The Good:

  • Beautiful music which really sets the mood
  • Graphically really nice with some really cool animations
  • The story is intriguing and the core gameplay mechanics are solid
  • The pacing of the game, for me, was perfect
  • Very addictive + the Dungeons are random every time

The Bad:

  • Some people may not like the pacing at the beginning as it takes a while to start making money
  • Very easy to die, and lose the majority of what you collected
  • No Vita version 🙁

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