Moonlighter (Switch) Review – Bright Experience?
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Digital Sun
Publisher: 11bit Studios / Headup (Retail)
Release: 8th November 2018
Price: 39.99 (Switch Retail)
Did you ever wonder who this friendly guy is who constantly sells you cool stuff in his shop after you go on your adventures? The one who always has the things in stock you always need or didn´t find on your journeys. Well, if your answer was yes, then you´ll be delighted to know it´s finally time to find out! Moonlighter puts you in the shoes of exactly that shop holder, who´s in constant trouble to find those items in dungeons too while selling them at reasonable prices. Who would´ve though a shop-simulator can be so fun?
In Will´s town, there are five dungeons, four accessible by adventurers … but the fifth is locked by four locks and no one even dared to find the fitting keys. However, Will is determined to do exactly that and uncover the mysterious behind the door. At the same time, he also has to manage his store, get items from the other four dungeons and keep a steady income, making it all the harder for him.
So, obviously, Moonlighter´s main appeal is the fact you´re handling your own shop, as there´s not much story or revolutionary gameplay. In practice, you will venture into those dungeons, kill enemies, destroy stuff and gather materials. Once stored in the backpack, you can either return to your shop any time, in order to sell them or push forward with the risk of dying and losing much of your stuff. Unfortunately, anyone expecting a deep management system will be disappointed as the whole thing is pretty straightforward: You can put up to four item stacks on display, set their price and wait for customers. Depending on the offer, they will either happily buy it or be angry, forcing you to lower it until they´re satisfied. Additionally, there´s also somewhat of a live market going on but I never really saw any of that, since everyone remained happy once I found a reasonable price.
As a result, a huge chunk of the shop system boils down to steadily lower your prices until someone is happy and never change it. It becomes a guessing game you could understand to a certain degree but are never forced to since it´s so easy. Especially when the game keeps track of all prices and the customer´s reaction, making it unnecessary to remember them too. Naturally, having enough money to survive won´t be a problem, yet, to motivate you into getting better and better items the game presents you with various town enhancements to help you on your dungeon adventures. Early on, you´ll be able to not only upgrade pretty much everything on your shop but also buy new merchants, which will upgrade your equipment or sell various potions.
Speaking of the dungeons, Moonlighter is pretty straightforward there too. Similar to almost any 2D dungeon crawler, Will can dodge, move quite fast and poke or slash depending on his weapon, making the movement the core of every room. Determining the best target, dodging their attacks and making use of the environment are key aspects of mastering the later floors, particularly when rocks or obstacles can be destroyed. Given, it never becomes really hard (despite the difficulty setting saying so) but maybe that´s the result of almost no innovations here. The bosses may impress you with one or two cool ideas or design choices but overall, it´s really what one would expect from this game and hardly anything to remember.
In the end, the one thing I enjoyed the most was the balance between those two aspects, as they merge together, mainly in the form of item management. Every death you lose items, so naturally, there are ways to send them back to your town regardless of your situation through curses, making them a really great tool. On the other hand, trying to stuff everything in your backpack will soon end in a hopelessly overfilled one, so effective management is another necessity. Combine that with specific rows that boost your weapons or other items, little tricks to circumvent stacking limits and alike, and you get a system that´s surprisingly complex and deep, actively forcing you to learn it, if you want to get the most loot possible without losing too much.
On the other hand, the graphics are pretty great too, even though they´re mostly standard during dungeons. Yes, most of the levels and enemies tend to look good but never unique enough to stay in your mind for long but they still work quite well in creating a really neat visual style. However, where Moonlighter truly shines is the village and overall UI design for me, as those really capture the atmosphere and feeling one could hope for. The town is bright, happy, detailed and simply a joy to walk through, while navigating your backpack works surprisingly well with a controller, though there could be touch controls or another way to remove some too long drag and drop actions. Those areas just breathe life and the style you would expect from a shop-simulator. Naturally, it runs great on the Switch without draining much battery, lagging or suffering from a noisy fan.
Last but not least, the physical version is once again pretty great, coming with the beautiful main artwork and a full-colour manual, I´m always amazed by nowadays.
In the end, Moonlighter may not be a game you will remember for ages or decide to come back to for months but it´s nonetheless a great way to spend your time. Offering well-working 2D dungeon crawling and a relaxing but not that challenging shop manager, it all comes together to form a fun time for everyone involved.
[A Review Copy was provided by Headup]