Moonlighter opens up just as our hero, Will, enters the dungeon. He moves through a couple of areas as the player gets assimilated to the game’s mechanics and soon, he finds himself outmatched against a horde of enemies. Although he and the player put up a good fight (at least I hope I did), Will eventually succumbs to the onslaught and finds himself kicked out of the mysterious place.
Lying by the dungeon entrance, Will is brought home by Zenon who warns him about the dangers of the dungeons and his foolish quest to unlock the 5th dungeon. Thus the story is set for Will to conquer these labyrinths and reach the elusive 5th dungeon. The tale of Moonlighter is simple one but nonetheless provides an enjoyable experience and an adequate motivation for players to sally forth on this treacherous journey.
That opening segment presents an apt representation of the general turmoil that players will be fraught with as they dive deep into the dungeons of Moonlighter. However, that’s only one half of this adventure, the other, which occurs soon after the aforementioned kicking is the adventure of running the titular ‘Moonlighter’, a quaint little abode that makes its due through the sales of the various trinkets found in the dungeons’ depths.
Moonlighter’s gameplay loop of dungeon exploration and item shop management is a wonderfully satisfying experience. The game holds five dungeons for the player to conquer with each conquest unlocking more items to sell at your shop or use in crafting new gear and potions. Combat is a fairly straightforward affair, at the beginning of the game, Will acquires a sword and shield which can be further upgraded later on or switched out with other weapons such as bows and big swords. Will’s three main actions in combat are a basic strike, a guard/charged attack and a dodge roll, the last of which allows for closing the gaps in an area as well as moving through enemy fire. Two types of weapons can be equipped at once and switched between on the fly with the tap of a button.
With its mechanical simplicity, timing is the most crucial factor in battle as various foes and their multitude of attack patterns will all converge on Will as he enters a new area. The flow between actions and smoothness of the animation give way to brisk and fun skirmishes against the denizens of these dungeons.
Falling in battle will get you evicted from a dungeon and any collected items stored in the backpack are lost, though items carried by Will, will be retained. Another way to exit the dungeon exists in the form of Will’s pendant which can be used at any time if given enough gold. Using this method allows for the retention of all loot amassed during his trek though either way, exiting the dungeon will lead the player to start again on the first floor. A sort of check-point system is unlocked a little bit into the first dungeon which will not doubt provide relief to players who don’t much care for the game’s rouge-like elements. Each floor of the dungeons have certain areas with zero enemies where journals detailing their mysteries can be found and also a single area where players can heal up in a rejuvenating pool of water. Areas such as these provide a welcome respite from from the otherwise harsh environment and the journals help to expand the game’s lore thus giving a bit more heft to Moonlighter’s story.
After a day’s (or night’s) trek through a dungeon, Will needs to cash in on his efforts in order to further fund his exploits and help grow the once bustling town of Rynoka, and to do so he must sell his haul at the Moonlighter. Like the combat, running the shop is kept fairly simple as well, with players starting off by placing a handful of items at a time and setting their prices. Once the shop is opened, an assortment of clients will pour in to have a look at the various wares on display and by judging their reactions to the cost of an item, players can then adjust the cost till they find the perfect price at which they can rake in the maximum amount profit while still keeping their customers happy and demand for the item high. Replacing sold items and adjusting the price according to expressions can all be done during the shop’s business hours.
As you gain more money and notoriety by advancing through the dungeons, upgrades to the shop and town will become available. You’ll be able to help the town grow by investing in other business such as a potion master or blacksmith which in turn will allow you greater options when preparing to dive into the dungeons. The Moonlighter can receive smaller upgrades, such as a cash register that entices clients to pay extra or a more comfy bed that boosts your health, or can be expanded each time a dungeon is cleared so that more items can be put up for sale and stored in the shop at a time.
The game’s beautiful pixel art and equally enchanting soundtrack give the title a wondrous charm and serene atmosphere that exudes even in the the perilous depths of the dungeons. The UI while nice to look at can be a bit meddlesome when it comes to sorting numerous items as the quick move function only allows for bulk movement meaning you’ll have to personally move each piece one by one if you wish to place them individually.
Moonlighter was an absolutely delightful experience all the way through and as someone who generally isn’t fond of rouge-like games, it provides a good amount of leniency with with consequences, never making me feel that I ever lost too much to continue when faced with defeat. Its charming, fun and fairly addictive and that’s exactly what a game like this should be.