Monday, November 5

Review: Moonlighter [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Indie games do a fabulous job of keeping you guessing. Some of them tap deeply into nostalgia and revive or revitalize old game styles or series while others venture into new territory. One of my favorite game categories has become roguelikes, not always due to their difficulty (though that’s often nice) but mainly because they don’t let you settle too firmly into patterns of expectations. The latest game to run with that ball is Moonlighter, which combines top-down dungeon-crawling (though no mazes) with community building and a bit of salesmanship. Put it all together and you have yet another indie that just about anyone should have a fair chance to enjoy.

You’ll play the game as a young man named Will, who may be the last in a proud line of merchants that run a shop in town, but who has an adventurer’s spirit as well. Hitting the dungeons at night and then selling back the spoils of his exploration during the day is a pretty smart business model, just you’ll need to be careful to pace yourself. Though your gear will start out pretty weak, with time, money, and materials you’ll be able to woo other shopkeepers to your town and get their help to improve your gear. Carefully checking out which pieces of equipment best suit your style, going for range or brawn, speed or toughness, you’ll want to mark which ones you’re interested in so it will be easier to keep track of which things you find in the dungeons you’ll want to keep and which you’ll want to sell.

The shopkeeping side of the game is a nice change of pace from fighting all manner of monsters and though you’ll probably get off to a rough start once you get the hang of it you’ll find it can be quite profitable. The key is in setting the initial price, watching how your patrons react, and then tweaking it until they seem consistently happy with it. You’ll also want to note when items are more or less popular and when you see people with specific interests in the store since that should help you realize when to alter the prices up or down accordingly. Be on the lookout for an occasional thief as well, you wouldn’t want to lose anything you had to go and get yourself. With shop and town upgrades you’ll be able to continue to bring in more business, make more money, and make your life in the dungeons progressively easier as well… just be ready to grind a bit along the way.

Aside from the grinding, and a lock up or two, my main issue with the game is the time that gets spent on inventory management. It’s one thing that your bag isn’t terribly big so you’d expect to have to do some shuffling. What really slows it down are various curses/effects that are on various items you’ll find in chests. Whether they dictate what position they need to be stored in, destroy an item near them when you get back to town, or even some positive effects like removing the curse on an item in a specific direction not everything about this is bad, but I found the time spent on it to be a bit tedious. I suppose it was an interesting management challenge at times but it was one of my least favorite elements in the game and yet I spent quite a lot of time doing it.

All in all Moonlighter is a refreshing mix of multiple game styles that kept me coming back for more. The dungeons keep changing things up and while they start out intimidating with experience and better gear you’ll begin to become more confident and capable. The shopkeeping aspect may not be nearly as thrilling but the reward of determining the optimum price for each item is its own reward, especially when you’re then able to bring back high-priced items and know you’ll be able to rake in the gold coins that you can then use to further improve your situation. It has a very satisfying loop and has enough diversity in its combat options that it’s likely just about anyone can get sucked into this hero’s adventures.

Score: 8.5

  • A satisfying “just one more run” loop
  • Both the dungeon-crawling and shopkeeping aspects of the game are satisfying and rewarding
  • Once you get the hang of things and begin upgrading your shop, the city, and yourself, it gets to be pretty fun

  • Getting started can be a tough business as you don’t yet know enemy attacks patterns, your starter gear isn’t very effective, and getting going with your prices can be a nightmare
  • Inventory management while in the dungeon is frequently necessary and a bit too cumbersome, sapping the energy from the game
  • In general you’re left a bit too much to figure out some things for yourself. It works out but can add to the early intimidation factor