23rd Nov2018

‘Moonlighter’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

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A game of two halves that make a cohesive and enjoyable whole, Moonlighter spends all night dragging you through ever-more-difficult dungeons and all day making sure that you hawk that broken sword for just the right price from your cosy little store.

Moonlighter is the name of the town that our merchant hero, Will, calls home. After being given a training sword and shield by his mentor, Will spends his time working through the mysterious dungeons that exist just outside of town, gathering up items and supplies as he does so, which can be turned into cold, hard cash in your shop. The approach of Moonlighter is quite pacey and the relative simplicity of the game play (your handbook is initially quite daunting, but ultimately not as dense as it seems) means it’s a great title to dip in and out of as progress doesn’t feel as infinitesimal as similar games can be.

Whilst in the town, you can look at the central meeting board to purchase upgrades not only for your shop (a funky iron till that nets you a 10% tip on top of normal prices or a sale bin which flogs items at a 75% discount etc.) but also other shopkeepers who allow you to craft and purchase items which will help you when in the dungeons. It’s oddly addictive to set out some items in the shop table, price them up according to the notes in your merchant handbook (a big smile means the customer has a bargain and the emotions run the gamut to downright anger at your tight-fisted ways) and try to rinse the maximum profit out of your wares from your loyal customers, keeping an eye on them as they mosey around the shop and quickly dashing over and sneakily re-pricing if that crystal was just a bit too much for them to fork out for. Of course, the items aren’t just for selling, the further you delve into each dungeon (there are four dungeons split into smaller stages, more on that later) the more goodies you find and a lot of these can be ear-marked in your backpack so you don’t sell them in error when they are needed to upgrade your armour or weapons.

After you’ve stocked up on health potions and maximised your provisions it’s time to brace yourself for… the dungeons.

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This is, naturally where the combat takes place. The initial dungeon (don’t worry, it’s suitable for heroes AND merchants, the sign told me so) is filled with laser-spewing golems as well as more hefty sword and shield-sporting enemies and flying drones that steal dropped items. As each section is randomly generated (although there are staples in each run-through such as a healing pool and an exit location as well as some special rooms that only pop up occasionally) each visit is never quite the same and the enemies and rooms are generally laid out in different ways which works surprisingly well in the longevity-stakes, never feeling too messy or uncoordinated and adding just enough variation to make the return trips feel fun and valid due to the different enemies and items encountered.

The risk / reward balance feels right as well, with your rucksack only able to hold twenty items, quite a few times I’d look at my health bar, then the gloopy portal to the next level of the dungeons, then my full sack and weigh up whether it’s worth diving onwards (if you die, you respawn back at your shop but lose a lot of random items from your trip) or cutting my losses, spending some cash teleporting back to the shop and shifting all my stash so that I can upgrade some stuff for future dungeon-visits, raising my chances of defeating the tougher enemies and bosses that guard the more saucy treasures.

Combat is handled with a simple dodge roll, attack and shield system (there are spears, bows and large swords as well, ready to be unlocked) and all items of armour raise your health meter as opposed to defence, per se. The enemies warrant different forms of attack and it can get quite dicey the deeper you get into the dungeon, but those rarer items…

With its jaunty, whistleable music, easy to learn systems and glorious pixelated visuals, Moonlighter was a real pleasant surprise for me and a game that I’ve been returning to a lot over the last week because it’s plain and simply very fun to play, I can imagine that it may lack depth for some gamers but for me, it really had that ‘one more dungeon and selling spree’ factor that kept drawing me back into its cutesy world.

Right, I’m off to flog a load of whetstones that have been cluttering the place up, got to save up for that new shop extension that I’ve had my eye on….

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