Have you ever wondered just how those shopkeeps come across legendary gear in your favourite video game? Moonlighter aims to answer that great unknown question by having you assume the role of Will. He’s a plucky sort, maintaining the Moonlighter store by day, but by night, he’s in the depths of the ominous dungeons outside town, looting and exploring to line his pockets (and store shelves) with as much merchandise as possible. It’s a fresh formula that hasn’t been explored too deeply so far, but during my time with Moonlighter, I was left not only wanting more but wondering just how much more it had to offer as a whole
Moonlighter’s premise is incredibly unique, having only been attempted a few times before. Let’s face it, shopkeeping isn’t glamorous, but Moonlighter makes it surprisingly fun. Pricing items, playing the market, and deciding what to keep for yourself sounds like a dull premise, but calculating and getting the most bang for your buck is very rewarding. You have to be aware of how the market is going as well, as you can keep track of what’s popular and what isn’t. This changes based on how much you sell of particular items too, so there’s reason to go back into old dungeons if you need to get your hands on that item that’s suddenly the talk of the town. There are also a variety of improvements you can bring to the shop, such as fancy centerpieces that earn you extra tips, or items that extend the duration in which people will stay shopping. As you grow your store, you get more choices to work with, but it’s unclear just how far this progression goes, as the overall amount of upgrades only appeared to have a few levels per area, such as storage space, store size, etc. Naturally there are only so many things you can do with a shop, but having a few further options, even purely cosmetic ones would have been appreciated.
Shop Like a Pro
To be the best shopkeep, you not only have to manage your shop like a pro, but you need to keep plenty of goods in stock, so it’s off to the dungeons you go. There are five ever-changing dungeons to tackle, each with their own unique dangers, but despite the name of the game, you don’t actually have to moonlight. You can hit the dungeons during the day as well, but you lose out on that time to sell to customers, so you have to weigh your options, especially if you find yourself pining after that shiny new armor. There’s absolutely no pressure in Moonlighter, and its this quality I can appreciate the most. In a world of missable quests, deadlines, and timed content, having the world of Moonlighter be accessible to you at your own pace is something you’ll find yourself appreciating the more you play the game, be it for extended sessions or for a quick run or two. Navigating the menus is fairly approachable as well, and as you gather more and more loot, various curses come into play. Some items may automatically transport its neighbor home, while others would outright break if you got hit too many times. Fortunately, there are also items that can purge curses off of others too, with careful inventory management being rewarded.
As you amass more and more stuff, you’ll need to duck out of the dungeon to either store or sell it, but thankfully, you can either teleport out and start from square one or set a checkpoint, which is especially handy when you get momentum going on later dungeon levels. These options have varying costs though, so depending on how good you are with your money, you may have to cut your losses from time to time. There’s a very well-designed risk/reward mechanic with this though, and finding just how far you can take yourself in a dungeon is always a pleasing challenge. There are plenty of weapons to make use of, ranging from swords and shields to bows and arrows and each weapon plays very differently, yielding their own benefits and drawbacks. You’ll also happen upon new equipment as you raid the dungeons, but whether you choose to keep it for your own use or sell it to a merc with money to burn is your call. Despite the variety of weaponry, the combat can feel a little floaty at times. It’s unclear whether this is intentional or not, but it feels like Digital Sun meant for this game to punish mindless button mashing, but there has to have been a smoother way to implement this. Will has seemingly endless stamina apparently when using his dodge roll, and while the near invincibilty is nice, it feels unbalanced. With some mechanics requiring careful timing and others not needing any whatsoever, there really should have been a little more thought put into how to approach this sort of gameplay.
Visually, the game is gorgeous. Moonlighter’s pixelated goodness seemingly quivers and jumps to life at points, with both Rynoka and the various dungeons feeling quite lively. There are some problems with a lack of enemy design though, as I noticed an enemy in the first dungeon was seen in the second one, sporting a new, plant-like theme this time with nothing else new about it. The other denizens of this second area felt plenty fresh, but between this and a few other enemies seemingly boil down to palette swaps is admittedly disappointing, especially with how unique some of the enemies are. The sounds that accompany you across Rynoka and each dungeon all stand out on their own too, but do tend to get a little repetitive at points, with tunes in later dungeon floors sounding like sped up versions of what you heard before.
Moonlighter is a very solid product overall, but there are parts that feel like they could have done a lot more with. It’s got great graphics, a simple, yet rewarding premise, and combat is satisfying despite its shortcomings. Moonlighter’s no pressure approach and overall design make it feel fresh enough that it is worth looking into, but for me personally, I hope this isn’t all that we get, as I like the product a ton. It just feels like missed potential, but Moonlighter is still absolutely worth looking into and is sure to provide plenty for you to do. There’s enough here that you won’t regret your purchase, but you may just be left chomping at the bit like I am. (especially for that Switch version.)
**PS4 Review Key was provided by the publisher**
- Fresh premise
- Rewarding progression
- High replayability
- Gorgeous artstyle
- Combat feels floaty
- Repetitive music
- Feels shallow