Pixel art action platformers with a gothic aesthetic aren’t exactly new. They’ve been around since, well, the original Castlevania. Lately, the Metroidvania genre has been crossbred with Dark Souls. This makes sense, since Dark Souls has, at its beating heart, many mechanics borrowed from Metroidvania games. Moonscars is an upcoming 2D action title that checks all the usual boxes, but goes a few steps beyond to add some ideas of its own.
Obtuse Story? Check. Soulslike Mechanics? Double check.
If opaque storytelling is a sign of a good Dark Souls copycat, then Moonscars is amazing. While I can’t even begin to explain the story — I just played a short demo, after all — I do know that the narrative is enmeshed into the game’s mechanics. You play as Irma, a Clayborn, who was created in the Moonforsaken Workshop, to where you’ll eventually return. Irma sustains herself in vampiric fashion by killing things and absorbing their Ichor. Ichor powers healing, spells and special abilities. Bone powder is the game’s currency.
Combat is very Soulslike, and that’s a good thing. Irma has light and heavy attacks, dodges and parries. She can also learn effective moves, essentially weapon arts in Dark Souls lingo. Eventually, she finds her way back to the Workshop, where she can obtain a new Mould. They’re a little like the shells in Mortal Shell. The various Moulds come with special buffs and a secondary weapon.
Fast travel comes in the form of Dark Mirrors. But there’s a cost. When Irma uses a mirror for the first time, she sacrifices her Mould and all her loot. A mirror version of herself appears at the spot — Elden Ring fans, think Mimic Tear — and she has to defeat it to regain her stuff. Just like with Dark Souls and its ilk, death means losing bone powder and a nail-biting run to retrieve it.
Shortcuts and Switchbacks
Moonscars’ world isn’t really open, but the map includes a fair amount of freedom in exploration, with shortcuts to unlock and the occasional need to backtrack. Moonscars looks appropriately dark and moody. It has a painterly art style that’s rich and suggests depth. While the atmosphere is somber, there are occasional moments of levity, or at least a bit of lightness. A Cheshire Cat like figure appears now and then to offer advice and a bit of exposition.
In the short demo there was no end boss, and a fairly limited number of enemy types, so I can’t come close to speaking to the full experience. But even in the brief slice of Moonscars’ gameplay, a few things stood out. First, combat and animations are engaging and will really scratch the Dark Souls itch. Second, there are a lot of systems at play that feed into the action and make it interesting and flexible. Finally, the game looks great. It’s not a totally unique aesthetic for sure, but it has the potential to equal games like Vigil: The Longest Night, Dead Cells, Unsighted or Blasphemous. I didn’t entirely get the story, but the combat hits the sweet spot between fun challenge and frustrating impossibility. I’m excited to see it develop.
***PC code provided for preview***