Moonlighter Hands On – A Link to the Cash Register

Moonlighter Preview

We all remember the great adventurers in games, but how exactly does someone like Link fund those journeys? It takes a certain bit of crazy to just go off on an adventure with no money in your pockets and hope to gain enough to sustain yourself. What about those of us that are a bit more grounded and have a job? In Moonlighter players don’t go off crawling through dungeons just for the sake of it, but rather to acquire merchandise for their store. Don’t worry, it’s more exciting (and far more addicting) than it may sound at first.

The story revolves around Will, the youngest shopkeeper in town. While he may be the youngest, his shop Moonlighter is the oldest in Rynoka. The town itself cropped up 70 years prior (after mysterious ruins appeared) and brave entrepreneurs entered to pick precious loot to sell from them. Those dungeons, however, are not nearly as prosperous as they once were, requiring more dangerous exploration further inside or at night when items and monsters are more plentiful. In a town filled with either heroes or merchants, Will tries to navigate a balance between his duties as a shopkeeper and his desires to be a Hero.

What we have here is a rather interesting combination of a merchant simulator and The Legend of Zelda style dungeon crawler. Let’s break down what to expect from the adventuring aspect first. The dungeons are ever-shifting through procedural generation which helps keep things fresh each time Will goes through them. Combat and style of play should be familiar though to anyone who has ever played some classic Zelda games or other dungeon crawlers. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but the tried and true methods here always have appeal when done well. So far from this very early build, it is on the right track. There’s more than just a standard sword and shield or bow here with ample variety of weapons; Moonlighter gives players plenty of options to combat the dungeon’s monsters.


“Every item has a price that will make shoppers happy, but the only way to know this is through trial and error and gauging customer response.”

Well, make that all monsters but one. Lurking in the depths is a monster that will wipe out poor Will or anyone who stays too long. Thankfully, our hero carries a merchant pendant which will transport him out if he faints. The smart bet though is to get out before that happens as along with the procedural generation Moonlighter incorporates some other rogue-lite elements, namely losing nearly all your precious merchandise should Will faint. The story makes mention of life being drained over time, I wasn’t 100% clear if that was due to the dungeon itself or with pendant usage, but it is something I’d like to see how it develops. Maybe this explains why our young explorer/merchant has ghost-white hair?

So, hopefully, all that hard work has paid off and Will has brought back some items to sell in his shop. That brings us to the second major aspect of Moonlighter, selling. Every item has a price that will make shoppers happy, but the only way to know this is through trial and error and gauging customer response. In true economic fashion, flooding the market with one particular item will drive down demand, which requires yet another level of selling to manage. If Will wants to get better items to sell, he needs better equipment, but that doesn’t come for free. It’s a vicious cycle of selling to adventure just to sell more, for more adventure that forms and makes you wonder if it’s just gameplay or social commentary.

Moonlighter ins1

Moonlighter is shaping up to be a quite addicting game. That adventure/sell mechanic can draw you in deep. If I can sell just 5 more vines, I can get that big old sword to make my expeditions easier. If I can just sell 10 more bars of iron I can finally afford to make my own weapons and not have to pay anyone else to do it. Now, time to dive back in for materials to make things and sell. That is a surefire recipe for some addictive gameplay. The only thing that gave me pause in my time with Moonlighter was that un-killable monster that serves as a hurry-up mechanic. I’m not crazy about these sorts of punitive hurry ups. Leave the ghost from Spelunky to Spelunky and reward players for speed if that is a goal, instead of punishing them for exploring in a game that has a healthy bit of exploring to do. Overall there is still plenty of time till we see Moonlighter and there is a lot to like about it. The interesting combination of mechanics should make this one to appeal to a wide variety of players.

*** PC key provided for preview ***