Moonlighter is a procedurally generated dungeon crawler that captures what makes the genre fun while also forging its own identity.
Moonlighter's gameplay is similar to The Binding of Isaac but trying to survive is not nearly as taxing. Instead of putting hours into one dungeon, you delve into short dungeons of just three floors then get out of there to sell your stuff to the town. It feels like a minimalist game but it also has enough to do to sink your teeth into for over ten hours. You play as Will, the young proprietor to Moonlighter, a shop in Rynoka. As a shopkeeper, it's your job to venture into the Golem dungeon to stock the shelves. If you make it far enough into the dungeon, you'll meet the Golem King: a huge guardian of a valuable treasure. Once you defeat the king, the entrance to the Forest dungeon will open. There's also a guardian at the bottom of the Forest dungeon so the idea is to keep descending dungeons and defeating their guardians while becoming more powerful.
Obviously, there are a lot of bad guys standing in your way and some doors can only be opened by killing all the enemies in the room. Before fending them off, you have to pick your weapon of choice: the sword and shield, big sword, spear, glove, or bow and each weapon has a totally different style. For instance, the big sword is a heavy two-handed blade that deals the most damage but swings very slowly. If you want a fast weapon, the claws are a good choice but they also have very low range. You can also use the bow which is the only weapon that can attack from a distance but it deals the least damage. You can switch weapons with L1 so ideally, you should bring two weapons to deal with different types of enemies.
There are four dungeons to explore: the Golem dungeon, Forest dungeon, Desert dungeon, and Tech dungeon. Each one looks totally different, has different enemies and music, and represents a distinct civilization. The enemies you defeat are so-called "guards" created by that civilization to guard their treasures. For instance, the Golem dungeon's guards are living golem statues and in the Technology dungeon, the enemies are electric automatons. Enemies' attack patterns become progressively more difficult as you advance. At first, you'll fight enemies with simple melee and ranged attacks but by the time you reach the Tech dungeon, you'll find enemies that electrocute the ground beneath your feet and require precise timing to avoid.
The bosses guarding the bottom of the dungeons are the best part of Moonlighter. They're huge, have attacks that are tough to avoid but aren't unfair, and killing them results in a crescendo that makes you feel like you did something amazing. The forest guardian was one of the best video game bosses that I beat in a long time. Dodging all the petals felt like I was playing a bullet hell shmup and I certainly didn't expect to beat that giant plant on my first attempt. Anyway, when you're not raiding dungeons, you're spending time in Rynoka, a peaceful town built next to the dungeons. There, you have to sell items and buy stuff from the other vendors (like gear, potions, and shop upgrades). All of these things require a lot of money so it's important to decide what you should buy now and what you should buy later. Should you buy the store upgrades to make more money first or save up to buy a better weapon to make fights easier?
Shopkeeping is a fun diversion after hauling treasure from the dungeons. The developers have a lot of fun ideas but certain things aren't well explained and you're left to find out all the details on your own. For instance, items are supposed to grow and shrink in demand but I never had to check the demand once while setting my prices. Supposedly, there are different types of customers like bargain hunters and rich guys in top hats and shoplifters. Again, these aren't well explained so you have to figure them out yourself.
Something else bothers me about Moonlighter; something at the back of my mind that's hard to pinpoint but I think I've figured out what it is. There are four dungeons, each with their own enemies and music. However, each one starts to feel too familiar far too quickly. The first couple times you set foot in a new dungeon, you're forced to adapt to a new slew of enemies with unfamiliar attack patterns. After you learn the best way to kill each type, you just kill the same enemies over and over again while refining your technique. Entering a new dungeon is a breath of fresh air but there are only four of them within the whole campaign.
Moonlighter has something to offer for casual players, completionists, and even speedrunners. Dungeons can be beat in ten minutes which is great if you don't have much time on your hands. There's also a huge variety of achievements to collect, ranging from defeating the bosses to beating the game in under ten hours to creating every weapon plus a surprising amount of hidden achievements, too. It makes me wonder: how many secrets are in Moonlighter that I don't yet know about? There's a lot to uncover.
- + Fast combat where you can use your own fighting style
- + Amazing and memorable hulking bosses
- + Great soundtrack and lots of content
- - Dungeons feel the same despite being procedurally generated
- - Shopkeeping isn't well explained
- - Gameplay loop lacks variety