SHOPKEEPER BY DAY,
MONSTER SLAYER BY NIGHT
Moonlighter, Digital Sun’s premiere game, is an intriguing roguelike action-RPG that meshes dungeon crawling with economic savviness. Whether you’re slaying a gruesome slime creature or determining the perfect price of that Ancient Pot, both have significant and meaningful outcomes to the game that certainly hooked my attention.
The story begins with Will (the character you play as), an emerging adventurer who inherits a failing shop, the Moonlighter, from his father who recently passed away. Will’s grandfather cautions him not to pursue the mysteries of the dungeons that ultimately caused his father’s demise. However, despite the warnings, the game propels you to explore the four mysterious dungeons to uncover their deepest depths. In addition to the dungeon-crawling, Will must also maintain Moonlighter and assist in the prosperity of the small town of Rynoka. Though the opening gambit of the story seemed promising, the random bits throughout intriguing, Moonlighter ended up being a huge dud at the end with plenty of head scratching choices.
Despite the lackluster ending to the tenuous storyline, Moonlighter’s focus is on the addictive gameplay loop. Throughout the various dungeons, there are a multitude of enemies each with their own specific combat strategies. Players need to quickly defeat them to move onto the next room and also collect a multitude of resources – all of which are randomly created each time. Eventually, there will be a variety of weapons to choose from, allowing players to choose their own playstyle. I found myself content with the sword and shield combo, but a bow and arrow, large sword, amongst others are available. The ultimate goal in each dungeon is to travel to the bottom and defeat the boss. However, at any time, players can escape out of dungeon to recover health or sell items. But tread carefully – if you die any time within the dungeon, all items obtained will be lost and there is no way to collect them back. After losing some cherished items, I decided to tread a bit more carefully on my dungeon runs, maximizing my inventory space, and choosing when to call it quits.
The dangers of the dungeons though is only half of the addicting game loop. Once you retreat out of a dungeon, it’s up to you to earn some money. Since you are now the new owner of Moonlighter, you can sell off all the items you found and can dictate how much each item will cost. Determining the perfect price for your business becomes a new gameplay mechanic. I found myself questioning the price of everything I sold. What’s the best price? How much can I charge before my customers refuse to buy? Am I getting ripped off? You’re able to quickly determine this based on the reactions of your customers. When the shop is open, customers present various emotions to mirror their reaction to the price to help determine the ideal price. Luckily, the game remembers the list of prices for each item and what the reaction was. Finding the perfect price then becomes a goldilock scenario; Too high? Too low? Just right. Even more so, I was able to quickly adjust prices in the moment, offering a dynamic experience with the shop open to customers. After a few rounds of this, I found myself the master of my shop – seeing customers satisfied with their purchases, stopping possible thieves, and tailoring my items to yield the largest profits.
Once I was able to finally feel like the master of my own shop, Moonlighter offered the ability to expand my reach. I was able to quickly upgrade my shop and invite various characters to the town. A blacksmith, for example, can help upgrade gear and create more powerful armor or I could upgrade the shop to possibly increase revenue. These RPG-like customizations, paired with the fantastic gameplay loop solidified my absolute love of this game.
The graphics within Moonlighter is a stylish 16-bit rendition without any framerate issues. The colors are bright and poignant with plenty of variety amongst the dungeons to clearly showcase each as its own. Sadly though, during the second half of the game I encountered several glitches – missing buildings, miscolorings, and even invisibility of the enemies. A quick reset of the game usually fixed any issue, but the annoyance was certainly noted.
The Verdict: 8.3 out of 10
Moonlighter is an addictive rouge-like that wonderfully balances the action packed dungeon-crawling with its carefully deliberate economic system. The gameplay loop can be tedious to some players, but if anyone enjoys the grind of a game, Moonlighter can offer a fantastic 10-15 hour experience that satisfies that itch for excitement.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with codes provided by the publisher. For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.