I try to make up my own backstory when it allows me to do that. In Moonlighter, I could fill in blanks that would otherwise have been left to the wind. In this game, you play as Will, the owner of the store called Moonlighter. During the day you are a simple shop owner by day, while at night you dive into the game’s dungeons to collect more gear and items to sell to the townsfolk, and make some money while doing it. There formula is a neat spin on the action-RPG genre, melding various gameplay mechanics well to provide a fun gaming experience.
Comparing Moonlighter to Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is justified as they share many similarities where you play as a shop owner/adventurer to sell the items in your shop. With that out of the way, both games are a blast to play but gameplay can leave more to be desired, especially as the gameplay requires you to return to dungeons repeatedly to gain access to better gear and items, as well as recipes to grow your town and shop.
While the premise is simple, you enter one of five dungeons and descend the three or so floors to gather as many items as possible, to return to town and sell your wares day in and day out. Each dungeon must be completed in order and each dungeon ends with one boss to overcome. You can also warp out of dungeons by using different pendants that warp you out for a nominal fee, or save your spot in the dungeon and charge you an exorbitant fee to return without starting from the beginning again. In theory, it is a smart way to allow you to return to where you are, but the price doesn’t allow the mechanic to be useful. I would often make multiple runs on a dungeon while gathering what I could, returning to town and upgrading everything available before diving back in and clearing the dungeon in one shot.
Managing your inventory is crucial to success in Moonlighter. At the start, your bag carries 20 items, to success you need to keep tabs on what you’re leaving dungeons with and the more you play the trickier finding worthwhile items becomes. Certain items found without dungeons may be cursed, other items destroy items in certain directions within your bag and other items transform when placed next to others. There’s a lot to micromanage within the game but the inventory system never felt tedious and ensured that whatever you left a dungeon with was worth doing so in the first place.
Items brought back to your shop can be sold to local resident and fellow adventurers. Placing an item on the table allows you to set the price for it, from there, if any item is priced too Hight, customers react accordingly, and the same can be said for items sold below market value and items sold for just the right amount. Listening to your customers and how they react is key to gaining money and expanding your business and town. I found myself spending more time here in town, making sure my prices were just right and feeling bad when I overcharged a customer for a broken sword or jelly they desired. Any money earned here can be used to beef up your equipment, make potions, grow the town and even expand your business.
As much as I like these mechanics, combat left more to be desired. Using one of five weapon types including sword and shield, large sword, spear, gloves, and bows. You can upgrade each weapon-type and inflict large amounts of damage all while running from floor to floor stocking up on precious cargo. It is a shame to say that the combat mechanics are uninspired and shallow and quickly I found the tediousness of swiping at enemies to be bothersome. Each weapon-type had a standard attack and a special attack but the issue would often be about hit-box detection and slashing at enemies would sometimes not register that it was happening, leaving me open and susceptible to enemy strikes. Enemies are also able to take damage through the environment and would be the saving grace for me to get through the tedious combat sections at times
I can’t get over the gorgeous pixel art that Moonlighter uses and am so impressed with the detail put into each character, the world, the dungeons, everything is gorgeous. The city is lively and lush, there’s lots of detail to take in as you move about town or a dungeon. Aside from minimal graphical issues (more in regards to animations acting up) I can’t find a fault with how this game is represented, and doesn’t take away from the core experience in meaningful way.
Moonlighter features a ton of gameplay mechanics that mesh well for the most part, as it is part rogue-lite and part shop simulator. The shallow combat isn’t for everyone but does an okay job of pushing the more important aspects to the fore front, including being a shopkeeper and entrepreneur. With wonderful pixel art and a matching score to go along, this is a fun game that can scratch itches you didn’t know you had. All in all, Moonlighter is a satisfying game not to be missed.
[A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]