Moonlighter (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Renan Fontes 26.12.2018

Review for Moonlighter on Nintendo Switch

Rynoka has seen better days. With the closing of its many dungeons, the village's economy has more or less fallen on hard times. That is until Will, Moonlight's resident shopkeeper, decides to take it upon himself to dive deep into the village's mysterious dungeons and sell its many artifacts for profit. In terms of premise, Moonlighter kicks itself off with a simple, but engaging, concept. Will's journey isn't to leave the tedium of commerce to take up adventure. Rather, he seeks to blend both of his passions together. Where other games would keep shop keeping in the background, this balances a perfect blend between dungeon crawling and economic rebuilding.

Although Will's days are scheduled on a proper twelve month calendar, the credits will most likely roll less than halfway through the year. Moonlighter is not a particularly long game, even by its structure, but the yearly premise is more of a piece of flavouring than it is an estimation of one's progression. In truth, months and years hardly matter. Rather, it's the days that count. Will's days are separated into key sections: morning and night. Although he is free to peruse the dungeons at his leisure regardless of time of day, the titular shop can only be opened during the morning. As a result, a natural rhythm is created via gameplay. Mornings are better suited for shop keeping and, nightfall is Will's after work trek into one of Rynoka's four dungeons.

While the structure itself is fine as is, what elevates the morning/night dichotomy is the synergy between the two halves of Will's days. Money earned during the morning can be used to buy new armour and weapons, while items found during the night can then be sold at the shop during the morning. Morning and night aren't simply two distinct halves of the core gameplay loop, but they actually influence one another. Considering the nature of dungeon crawling, most of the game's play time will be spent mowing down enemies in an attempt to find valuables.

Combat itself is divided into five key play styles: sword & shield, spear, big sword, gloves, and bow & arrow. With the exception of the bow, each weapon has access to a three hit combo along with a special attack for all five weapon types. For instance, pressing 'B' with the sword and shield equipped allows one to block incoming attacks, whereas 'B' creates a tracking shot with the bow. Attacking with Will requires a surprising amount of time to pull off adequately, though. While the difficulty is seldom overwhelmingly challenging, the inability to spam the 'A' button necessitates a more careful approach to action.

Screenshot for Moonlighter on Nintendo Switch

After all, the protagonist is primarily a merchant, not a warrior. It is only natural he need to stagger his own attacks. At the same time, a slower approach to combat creates a certain flow in battle where enemies demand a deeper level of attention, as one poorly timed attack can result in Will taking damage. As armour does not naturally come with a defence stat, and must instead be enchanted in town, getting hit with freshly crafted gear can quickly lead to your death. Thankfully, Will has a dodge roll that he can trigger to get out of tight situations, emphasizing movement in combat. Although most enemies can be defeated without too much focus, boss fights do require a basic of the core mechanics.

Every enemy Will defeats has the chance of dropping items. While simply going room to room and killing enemies will net him a full bag of valuables, the best items are always tucked away in treasure chests - and later ones at that. Each dungeon is divided into three core sections with each floor more difficult than the last. The deeper one goes into a dungeon, the better the more valuable the items found will be. Of course, you can only carry so many items in your backpack. With a total of 20 available slots, (five which Will keeps on his hands, and keeps in the event of his death) each slot is precious. Across three floors, some items will naturally need to be swapped out for better treasures.

Although the logical solution would be to simply have him drop any items he cannot justify keeping, the first dungeon generously bestows upon him the Merchant Mirror; a mirror which turns found items into gold. Using the Merchant Mirror will always result in the consumed item giving less gold than it would when sold at Will's shop, but the alternative would be to simply abandoning items in each dungeon. Instead, this smart hero can make a steady flow of money while dungeon crawling. This is especially useful as leaving each dungeon either requires you to defeat the boss, or pay an escape fee by holding 'Y.' With a constant stream of gold, however, you will always have enough money to escape.

Screenshot for Moonlighter on Nintendo Switch

Dungeons themselves are randomly generated, ensuring that each run has an element of randomness to them. At the same time, dungeons are not so random where there isn't a clear pattern to how to proceed. Hot springs will always appear on the way to the next floor, room layouts are never so radically different from run to run, and enemy placements maintain a relative consistency. It certainly helps that all four dungeons have their own unique identities. The Golem Dungeon is appropriately cave themed; the Forest Dungeon is a blend of jungles and the woods; the Desert dungeon has a technologically Egyptian structure to it; and the Tech Dungeon embraces a science fiction inspired finale. Each dungeon has their own set of items and enemies as well, creating a sense of progression from dungeon to dungeon.

Progress is being made not just literally, but visibly through what Will can find and sell. Upon returning from a dungeon, he sets his shop up for the next day. Items can be placed on stands for sale, but the prices need to be adjusted by the player. Energy Crystals are given an immediate value as a jumping off point, but every other item needs to be priced through trial and error. How NPCs respond will ultimately dictate an item's "true value." The happier an NPC responds, the closer the price is to its best value. The angrier an NPC responds, the further away Will is from selling said item. Supply and demand also plays a role in selling works out, thus, the more of an item Will sells, the higher the chance he will eventually need to decrease its price.

Holding off on items, however, can create a situation where the demand is so high that Will can realistically gouge his prices. Of course, the best solution is to always price accordingly, but money making is really at the discretion of the player with no wrong way to approach commerce. Although most gold will likely be initially funnelled towards upgrading your gear and purchasing better weapons, Rynoka and Moonlight can both be upgraded in the central hub. With enough gold, one can purchase new stores and upgrades for the shop - Vulcan's Forge sells weapons and armor; Wooden Hat sells potions and gear enhancements; Le Retailer sells items that you could otherwise find in dungeons; Hawker sells decorations to boost Moonlight's stats; and, finally, the Banker allows Will to invest his money.

Screenshot for Moonlighter on Nintendo Switch

On the Moonlight side of things, Will can upgrade his bed for added health and defense in every new day cycle; upgrade his treasure chests so he can store away more goodies; buy a for sale box to draw the eye of customers; or purchase a new cash register to generate extra tips from customers. Moonlight itself can also be upgraded after each dungeon, increasing the amount of items Will can sell and how many decorations he can place while also allowing him to hire an employee. Now, while it would be simple enough to just place items and let them sell themselves, manning Moonlight is far more involved.

Different NPCs demand different items. Warriors will occasionally come in to buy weapons while generous patrons will be more than willing to buy the most expensive item on display, potentially creating a scenario where Will can rush over and price gouge. Bandits also periodically invade Will's store, requiring him to chase them down and roll into them before they make it out of the store with any stolen goods. The only major downside to Moonlighter is just how short it is. Combat flows well, building up Rynoka is engrossing, and the level design is surprisingly tight despite procedural generation.

At the same time, the four core dungeons come and go way too soon. Brevity is by no means a bad thing, and it is ultimately better the game end up paced accordingly, rather than dragged out to a length it realistically cannot pull off - yet another two full dungeons would have helped alleviate the "bitter" to its "bittersweet" ending. When it comes down to it, though, Moonlighter is a fantastic action-RPG with plenty of heart, and a unique spin. David Fenn's soundtrack is downright outstanding - one of the best scores of 2018 - and the visuals are beautifully charming, crafting an old school flair that looks appropriately modern. Whatever faults the title has are more than made up for by the sheer amount of love and care put into the main game.

Screenshot for Moonlighter on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

In spite of an ending that arrives too soon, Moonlighter manages to offer an engaging balance of commerce and action up to the very end. There is a natural rhythm to opening the titular shop during the day only to dungeon crawl once night falls. Progression is constant, emphasizing a design philosophy that prioritizes a lack of wasted time above all else. From enhancing weapons to upgrading Rynoka, every piece of gold Will spends is in benefit to not only the player, but also the flow of it all. With surprisingly tight combat and an economy influenced exclusively by the protagonist himself, this is one of the most endearingly creative takes on action-RPGs this generation.

Developer

11 Bit Studios

Publisher

11 Bit Studios

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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