Moon Raider has been on my radar ever since I discovered its Kickstarter campaign a few months back. A 2D sidescroller action-adventure involving a martian lead shooting at other martians on the moon; seems like a nice way to spend one’s time. With colorful pixel-art and the promise of shoot and shine action, I felt my retro aesthetic preferences poking me to look into it further. Now that it’s securely fastened into my brain, how does it Moon Raider fare against an already prevalent world of indie 2D sidescrollers?
One thing worth noting is that the game also fashions itself as a mobile title, with a structure that matches. Developer Crescent Moon Games clearly has experience with the mobile market, as their list of games shows. I feel it important to mention, as one’s expectations may need conditioning going into Moon Raider. What this entails and more to come as the review continues.
Moon Raider is available on Steam for your regional pricing, with console/Android ports planned for an unconfirmed date in the future.
Story – For All the Ma(rtian)s
As the old saying goes, “If you can’t keep your alien mother alive, travel to the moon and collect a bunch of gem energy.” Such is the concept behind Moon Raider, starring Ava, a half-human half-selenite protagonist who travels to the moon to save her dying mother. Only with 200 conveniently-packaged gems scattered across the moon will Ava be able to cure her. Unfortunately, the old king of the selenites still present on the moon don’t take kindly to people taking their gems. Ava will have to fight her way through the moon and back.
To cover the Mobile-like aspects lightly, the story presentation is standard for the game type. The player is presented with an opening presentation that includes stills and simple text, only moving through panning effects. In-game, the only indication of the story having any point in one’s journey is through occasional dialogue boxes, emphasis on “occasional.” Think general Nintendo IPs via Mario or Kirby: context is provided, then it switches to “gameplay” and rarely looks back.
To some degree, something as emotionally captivating as trying to save one’s mother from death can be used to good effect, but it’s just contextual flavor here. Even Ava’s father, a human scientist who helped her get to the moon, usually only pops up to act as a tutorial guide and to alert to new upgrades being added. There are no instances of him checking in on her, perhaps trying to analyze the situation, or further instilling Ava’s mother’s condition. Somewhat unfortunate that the developers didn’t go the extra mile to provide these characters with a genuine family connection. I suppose it comes with the territory of simplicity, which will come next.
Gameplay – Shoot and Moonshine
As stated previously, Moon Raider feels quite like a mobile game should. There are a variety of things that make this so, but none more so than the way the game functions and expects from the player. Ava can only shoot (in the four cardinal directions), jump, and use gem energy to make her temporarily invincible/allow her to fly. Not too complicated to process, making it accessible to most types of devices. The game is categorized in terms of zones and stages, via Zone 1, stage 1 (or 1-1) and so forth. Individual areas are relatively similar in structure, with each zone adding some specific condition or threat that differentiates them from others, aside from aesthetically. One Zone may be water-based, another ice-based, and another factory-like. Everything is tightly packed in an easy to digest, straightforward fashion that makes it akin to the “easy to pick up, difficult to master” type of games. That is, if the game were all that difficult.
For what it expects, it expects you to collect and shoot stuff. See a gem? Get the gem. See a baddie? Shoot the baddie. Some platforming and general adventure-esque opportunities arise in regular proximity, but the large majority will be flipping switches to advance in the level, collecting, and shooting. In a word, Moon Raider is simple. Easily laid out mechanics that just about anyone can interpret and a base premise of run-and-shoot gameplay that is little more advanced than, say, early Mega Man titles. Not to say this is bad in the slightest, just that it may not be to genre veterans’ taste, or those looking for teeth-grinding challenge.
Mobility and Feeling
One thing that stuck out to me almost immediately was how the game controls, which is a little awkward. Eventually one will grow used to it; however, those accustomed to the free-style movement of titles within the Metroidvania genre will feel somewhat restricted. Only aiming in four directions, precise movement doesn’t always register, specifically on a control stick; gunshots will randomly vary in their length depending on one’s movement, and aiming itself can be finicky. On the last point, I found myself at a disadvantage multiple times due to strange shooting rules, such as not being able to shoot when performing a double-jump, can’t shoot up while jumping at all, and no down-shooting to speak of. Perhaps my experimentation was simply ineffective, but from my perspective, these are odd things that limit player freedom somewhat. Though by the end, I accepted what was offered.
Aside from what was detailed above, Moon Raider does have a considerable polish to it that makes it “good for a mobile game.” The stigma around mobile titles, however deserved it may be, will inevitably factor somewhat into how people approach this title. It’s not Metroid Fusion, though the similarities in genre and length (roughly two hours) are present. The most I could say is that it does what it wants to do splendidly, with no tricks to boot. It’s not executed perfectly, though it has a charm that makes it joyful to play.
Two other areas to explore with Moon Raider include secrets and boss fights. The former consists of hidden walls and bonus rooms containing gems to easily retain one’s gem energy. One can collect health upgrades, gem energy quantity upgrades, and weapon damage upgrades from walls marked with a selenite avatar. This is also the only way to find these unlockables—again, simple. They can be easy to miss, especially if one is not paying attention, but completionists will have no trouble with it.
Boss fights are another story, with wildly different difficulty curves that seemingly have no order. At the end of each Zone, Ava must face a boss to advance to the next Zone. These bosses range from random creatures to specifically beefed-up selenites. Some boss fights are a little involved, with moving platforms and hazards to keep one on their toes. Other boss fights consist of spamming the shoot button while the boss travels one or two paths that are simple to read. It’s this random quality to bosses that make the trek a little anticlimactic. This is especially noteworthy with the final boss, who took me two tries to beat (the second(?) boss took me three). Two bosses are also quite similar to two other bosses, almost in a copy-paste fashion. A lack in creativity makes boss fights one of the lesser aspects of traveling through Zones.
Graphics and Audio – Retro Dreamin’
One very positive aspect to Moon Raider is its attention to aesthetic. I adore the color scheme and sci-fi aesthetic present throughout the adventure, complete with ten different Zones. My personal favorite are the crystal mines, with a lovely purple hue adorned by rainbow-crystalized baddies and background gems. The pixel aesthetic also adds a lot to the retro charm, and makes perfect sense for a mobile title. Again, boss complexity is not the strongest point, though the whole is a splendorous vacation from reality, with baddies, upgrades, et cetera, all looking like a colorful dream.
The sounds of Moon Raider are a little less satisfactory, though not within a negative sense. “Adequate” would be one word to use, “decent” would be another. It allows enough immersiveness within the game that only the sketchy controls will take the player out of. A nice collection of boops and bops that simmer the style to fit the sci-fi nature. Not revolutionary, not putrid; it makes do with what it is and gives it some energy without sacrificing setting ambience.
Moon Raider was reviewed on PC, with a review key provided by Crescent Moon Games.