Moonlighter Review

Moonlighter Review

A charming adventure.

Moonlighter Review PC
Release Date
May 29, 2018
Digital Sun
11 bit studios
PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch
Reviewed on:
PC (Steam)

Being a long-time fan of indie games, Moonlighter had immediately caught my attention when it hit storefronts. In my eyes, games like Moonlighter are what make the indie scene so important; games that take a chance on a unique premise and push to create something new altogether. It has a tremendous sense of charm and style, which comes together in a way that pulls the player into the world. In many respects, Moonlighter successfully infuses its rogue-lite gameplay with its shopkeeping, but a few core issues detract from what otherwise is a very pleasant experience.

First, Moonlighter isn’t your traditional rogue-lite. Delving into its dungeons isn’t simply about equipping yourself with the best gear and slashing your way to the final boss, but rather about gathering everything of value that you can while trying to accomplish that very feat. The game features a very unique inventory management system, that forces the player to consider where an item is placed relative to others in the inventory. Some items will duplicate to the left or right, while others will destroy whatever is above them. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before, and it adds an interesting dynamic to the loot collection in the game. Once your backpack is filled, the items and materials you’ve collected can then be sold in your shop.

Moonlighter Review - Shop
Slowly but surely, you will gear up and expand your shop.

At first, you’ll have no idea how valuable any given object is, and will have to take a guess when setting the initial price. You’ll then have to watch carefully as patrons enter your store and assess the prices of the items you’ve put up for sale. Their reactions indicate to you whether or not the price is too high, too low, or just right. Be careful, though! If you pick up a very high-value item but don’t recognize it as such, the shopper’s eyes will light up with golden coins at the excitement of fleecing you for a steal of a deal. That’s why I made a habit of leaning more towards overpricing newly-acquired items and resources and working my way down. The budding capitalist in me refuses to miss out on a good profit!

The shopkeeping element of Moonlighter, while refreshing, isn’t without its flaws. While I thoroughly enjoyed upgrading my shop by expanding its layout and improving profit margins through a variety of paid upgrades, the general loop becomes a bit predictable once you figure out the sellable prices of items. Although there is a supply/demand element in the game that prevents you from flooding the market with any one item, only minor pricing adjustments are required to keep the products moving. And if you happen to get stuck on any one particular dungeon, you’ll find yourself selling the same materials over and over again until you’re able to progress. Those items will not fluctuate in price much, and it can feel like a bit of a grind.

Perhaps the most irritating element of the shopkeeping are the thieves. These masked characters slide into your store, snatch up your goods, and make a dash for the door. That itself is neat. I like the concept. However, what irritated me was that when you catch one of these thieves, they’re allowed to just walk out of your store without any consequence. You might be thinking, who cares? Am I expecting them to get arrested or something?! Well, no, but what I found maddening is that they just keep coming back. Over and over, you’ll be wrestling thieves stealing your goods. Eventually you can get an assistant who will help keep these masked bandits in check, but honestly, it simply isn’t fun. It feels like a poorly-implemented minigame that was meant to engage the player in shopkeeping, but instead just annoys them beyond belief.

Moonlighter Review - Bandit
I see you, thief! Don’t you dare!

It’s intriguing that considering this is a review for a roguelite, I have yet to even mention the combat. That speaks to the varied nature of Moonlighter’s gameplay loop, which has you jumping into dungeons, porting out, and then managing your store. The combat, for the most part, is engaging. However, movement (and in particular, the attacks), feel constrained to a grid, which limits your control in battle. This can be a little frustrating, but you do eventually get used to it. I wasn’t comfortable in combat until I crafted my first two-handed sword, which swung in an arc that hit several tiles. This alleviated my frustrations with the movement quite a bit, and made the game much more enjoyable.

Moonlighter Review - Sword
The two-handed sword was certainly my weapon of choice.

It is also worth noting that the game does not offer any form of mouse support, which could very well be a deal-breaker for anyone without a gamepad. This omission is odd, because the controls as it is can be tricky, even with a gamepad. Without even a mouse? Yikes.

While I know that in many ways it would sound as if I didn’t enjoy my time with Moonlighter, the truth is in fact the opposite. I found myself genuinely enjoying the gameplay loop, despite the game’s flaws. It’s a game that is greater than the sum of its parts, coming together in a way that is just fun. Moonlighter certainly has flaws, but I will always appreciate flawed ambition over a game that’s just another variant in its genre. It makes me really want a sequel. If Digital Sun can iron out the kinks in this formula, then they just might have something genuinely special.

Moonlighter Review
Review Summary
Moonlighter is a game that does so much right that it becomes easy to overlook its flaws. It is an ambitious debut that does a great job pulling the player into its charming world. Now go dive into those dungeons, there's money to be made!
The Good
Charming design.
Unique gameplay loop.
Innovative inventory management.
The Bad
No PC mouse support.
Thieves are too annoying.
Controls could be more intuitive.

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