A small idyllic village exists, situated on a crossroads. Though a shell of what it once was, it remains a pleasant place to live. Among its inhabitants is Will of Moonlighter, a shop keep and, most importantly, a dreamer. He longs for two things: for his village to have the foot traffic it once did and for adventure. Luckily for him, these can be accomplished by one task: entering into the dungeon behind the village and solving the mystery of its five gateways. If he should find some valuables to sell in his shop along the way, well all the better.
Moonlighter is a dungeon-crawling action/adventure game from Digital Sun and 11bit Studios (This War of Mine, Frost Punk). As with seemingly all indie pixel-art games, Moonlighter has some rogue-like elements, though only enough to qualify it as a rogue-lite.
Moonlighter is available on Steam for $19.99.
Like most games of its ilk, there is just enough story there to give context to the events and give the player an extra reason to play, in order to uncover more secrets. Moonlighter tells the story of Will, a shop owner and would-be adventurer. Against the wishes of the town elder, Will decides to brave the dangers of the abandoned and illegal dungeons. Throughout his adventure he will slay monsters and collect loot to sell back at his store or use to enhance his gear.
Moonlighter gives just enough story to make sense of the world and give reason for character actions, though not so much that there’s much to write about it in a review, sadly. Still, we must soldier on.
The story develops as each dungeon is defeated, prompting the village elder to poke his head in once again to scold Will on risking his life much in the way his father did before him. He never seems to be too adamant that Will play it safe and just stick to his shop, usually relenting as soon as he begins his tirade.
The writing within the game is cute and simple, again existing in just enough quantities to give context and a little bit of lore. The final moments of the story do take an interesting and unexpected turn, so kudos must be given for a swerve in even the most basic of adventure stories. Bits of lore are scattered about the dungeons in the form of adventurer notes.
There are two major aspects to Moonlighter’s gameplay: the dungeon-crawling and the shop-keeping. Both of these elements are crucial to progressing through Moonlighter, and, thankfully, both are well crafted and executed. The basic flow of things is at night you will enter into a dungeon and get as far as you can without dying, teleporting out when you feel you’ve done enough, and then by day you will sell off any and all items you do not need. Dungeoning can be done during the day, but you’ll always return to the village at night, if you do, and thus cannot sell off your wares right away. So let’s discuss these two elements in the order you’ll likely be doing them in: dungeon then shop.
The layout of a Moonlighter dungeon mirrors that of a Legend of Zelda NES dungeon, or more recently a Binding of Isaac dungeon. Every room has four walls and upwards of four doors leading out to the rest of the dungeon. The layout is reset each time you enter the dungeon, randomized with a select set of monsters to be distributed about the rooms. There are no real traps to speak of in Moonlighter, just monsters and pitfalls. Most rooms can be skipped entirely, even if they have monsters in them, but others do require you to defeat everything in the room before you can proceed. What determines if the room is one or the other is a mystery. Each floor to the dungeon also comes with a healing spring, making Moonlighter not nearly as hard as some other rogue-lites.
At the end of each dungeon is, of course, a boss. Unlike in, say, Binding of Isaac, there will only be one boss you can face in each dungeon type. The final boss of the first dungeon will always be the Golem King and nothing else. This removes some of the randomness the game would have if it were like other rogue-likes and gives the player a more consistent way of practicing against the boss before finally landing the killing blow. All tolled there are five dungeons, with five bosses, and three floors each (excluding the final dungeon). It may not sound like a lot, but you’ll likely be revisiting each of these dungeons many times over in order to reach the end of each as well as collect materials for shop and gear.
Your speed of combat will depend very much on which weapons you choose to bring with you on your adventure. You can opt for the slow-swinging but heavy hitting greatsword, or perhaps you’d prefer the fast strikes of the gauntlets. Regardless of your weapon, combat can still be boiled down to strikes and dodges. Reading the enemy tells and dodging at the right time will be critical to your survival. Combat is quite satisfying, overall, never feeling unwieldy or clunky.
The second element of Moonlighter is the shop-keeping. Within your shop are a few tables upon which you can place the spoils of your adventure. Once the shop opens, npcs will filter in and take a look at your wares. There is no means of knowing the exact price people are willing to pay for an item. Instead, what you must do is set your best estimate for a price and wait to see how NPCs react to it. If they feel the price is too high, they’ll make a distraught face and move on. If they think it’s a steal, they’ll be extremely happy and take the item up to the counter right away. No changing the price once it’s picked up, mind you. Depending on their reaction, you’ll want to adjust the price higher or lower until the customer looks pleased with the price, but not over excited. You could also use a Steam guide for the prices on each item but doing so really takes away a core element of the whole experience.
Only a handful of items from each dungeon type are only good as wares. The rest can all be used to augment and upgrade your gear. A helpful tip is that when talking to the blacksmith, select an item you want and add it to your wishlist. All items needed to craft that item will from then be marked with a star, so you know exactly which items to sell and which to keep.
The crafting system is somewhat flawed, unfortunately. There are two upgrade paths to every weapon, and they are strictly linear. If you want to switch tracks to another path, you’ll need to make the starting weapon all over again. It’s a limitation that greatly reduces the variability you can reasonably have with your arsenal.
So what do you do with the money you get from selling your wares? Well the town is in need of some upgrades and there are plenty of spots open for new business owners. Potion and gear crafters, a banker, a décor specialist, and more are all waiting for your investment so that they can set up shop. In addition, your store can be upgraded several times, increasing its size, space for more items to sell, a bigger bed for better adventuring, and more storage. And of course, you need money to craft and upgrade your gear, so there’s really no getting away from this key aspect of the game.
As you’ve likely already deduced by the pictures by now, Moonlighter is a pixel-art game. Rather than just use the medium as a simpler way to create the game world, Moonlighter elevates itself by creating truly beautiful looking environments and interesting creatures with pixel-art. The layout of the dungeons is simple, but that doesn’t mean the contents have to be. The art direction of the game is truly eye-catching, prompting one to take a second look at a game they might have otherwise passed over.
Some of the bosses are truly fascinating to look at, though sadly a couple are rather bare bones in their design (a giant ball isn’t much to look at). Every piece of gear the character can equip is shown on the character model, allowing for some customization of Will’s look. Each dungeon has a different theme, ranging from ruins to desert to even a tech-enhanced dungeon.
Moonlighter is a skillful blend of Binding of Isaac and Recettear. Though some may find the core gameplay somewhat repetitive, with the constant returning to a dungeon to loot its contents and sell them for cash, others may enjoy the comfortable routine. The game tells a simple story with some fantastical elements, but simple nonetheless. It’s just about a guy who owns a shop and dreams of adventures larger than his every day life.
Though it likely won’t top anyone’s charts this year, Moonlighter remains a delightful and enjoyable experience that can be easily recommended to anyone who is a fan of either shop upkeep and/or adventuring.
|+ Solid gameplay flow.||– Tad repetitive.|
|+ Enjoyable combat.||– Can't refight bosses once defeated.|
|+ Great visuals.|