I honestly don’t know where I stand with Moon Hunters. It’s not bad by any sort of “standard.” Every time I go back to it I find something I’ve enjoyed or something new that piques my interest, while other moments leave me sour and complaining. It’s like eating a burrito that hasn’t had all of its innards properly mixed. Sometimes you bite into an evenly spread gourmet of Spanish cuisine, and at other points, you’ve bitten more cheese than an 80’s rom-com movie.
And how apt a comparison, Moon Hunters to a burrito. The Kickstarted game is part of the indie crowd, with a combat system, 4-player emphasis, and segregated classes by way of Diablo. It sports a branching, Dungeons and Dragons-esque story that differs with changing characters, backstories, starting hometowns, and dialogue options made in game. It’s a firm advocate of Dragon Age: Origins and its vice president, Mr. Replayability. It even does retro-style graphics reminiscent of the SNES. But it takes each of these and condenses them into the “lite” version, giving us only slivers of greatness rather than dedicating itself to one crowd.
From Diablo, we’re given four extremely diverse classes, each with their own set of abilities. Each character is given three different combat abilities. The SNES comparison is pretty apt, since you could probably map all the controls to a SNES controller. Each class also seemed at best varied, and at worst horridly balanced. Almost every enemy you’ll verse is melee-based, so anything that’s powerful and ranged automatically win at everything.
My first attempt at Moon Hunters was with a druid class, whose ranged attack looks as deadly as leaves blowing through a crisp summer’s breeze. After trying out his other abilities, I found out he can create vines on the ground that slow enemies, and can transform into a sort of man-bear (pig?) that can maul enemies with a more powerful melee attack. But since almost all enemies are melee units that automatically do damage when you touch them, I found myself trading health more times than I’d like, and had eventually traded enough life in to purchase myself a few deaths.
Feigning interest in the druid, I tried out the blood mage. She sported a mid-ranged spear attack, a blood beam of doom that was only a smidgen less powerful than the laser that destroyed Alderaan, and a sort of push attack that knocked enemies about and served as a good dodge maneuver with damage. And with my newly named character, Kublee set off to save the world.
I normally would discuss the goings-on about the plot, but I’d rather not spoil any of it, since there’s not much to spoil. Kublee set out to go back to her home village, and in under an hour, the game was over. I was met with the credits and a sky filling in new constellations, with Kublee taking her place. The game creates a character description generated by the actions you made. Apparently, Kublee was a humble pacifist that would scream at people for insulting her pride and had a bit of a murder streak.
While I appreciate the concept of creating your own legacy in the stars and such, it comes off quite gimmicky. Yea, you could look back and read a vague description of what you might have done, but it’s gaming formality wading in shallow waters. The system, even if created by computer engineers at MIT paid in Star Trek comics couldn’t accurately predict why a player made a certain decision in a game, and so systems like it will always come off weird. My third character, a warrior class, was apparently seen as a traitor to his clan, even though they seemed to accept him arriving for the moon festival with praise and minimal fuss.
While accomplishing certain tasks and responding to characters in certain ways, your character will develop traits that can be used in specific situations. Two elders arguing might take a prideful character to walk in and interrupt them, while watching two druids meditate might take a more patient character to interact with them. To gain the prideful trait, one must both find and figure out what activity can be done to produce it. These interactions require you to sorta know what you’re getting into, meaning that you’ll probably have to do multiple playthroughs to figure out a best way around or to open up a certain dialogue option.
The most interesting and intriguing part of Moon Hunters is probably the lack of a leveling system. Your character has a set of traits that they can improve at the end of every area through camp activities. Stargazing, for example, will improve intellect and faith, which contribute to specific stats. They’re each laid out pretty simply in the character menu, which is a nice change of pace. Where the character constellation gimmick was formality done poorly, the leveling system was a great example of informality done well.
As well, the option to have coop on the same machine was nice. Playing it with a friend found that enemies were actually somewhat challenging, involving some teamwork and tactical yelling to accomplish objectives and defeat bosses. There’s just something to playing with two people looking at the same screen that playing on multiple units can’t beat. Playing by myself, everything was completely vulnerable to my blood beam of death, even killing the final boss without having to move more than a foot and beating it in less times than it takes to piss. Playing with other people ups the damage resistance on the enemies, which makes foes more formidable than double ply toilet paper against a Taco Bell run.
There’s two unlockable classes, an unlockable skin for each class, and some different starting towns to unlock as you replay the game. Some different areas with different enemies and NPC encounters also unlock, but nothing that truly adds any substance to the game, just a larger pool. Any additional lore or information is hidden behind activities that require certain traits, and going through the ropes to figure out how to receive certain traits to learn about these bits of lore were too few and far between.
For $15, I’d be hard-pressed to consider buying the game. Maybe having a combo pack of 4 codes for $40 could work out, spending the other $20 on pizza. But asking 4 people to collectively pay $60 for a game with one-hour playtimes is a hard sell. Those looking for a Diablo experience won’t be satisfied with essentially resetting the game every hour and limited character building. Those into D&D and Dragon Age will fret over the lack of depth and lore-building around them. I’ve seen the Zelda comparison, but those games usually revolve around a set destiny that you’re blindly fulfilling (sans Wind Waker), rather than a blank slate for you to create your own character. And mechanically, there’s no gizmos or gadgets to help solve intriguing puzzles, or interesting combat mechanics that synergize in interesting ways. Go to area, kill things that attack you, talk to things that look interesting.
The idea of blending multiple game mechanics and molding them together is great in theory, but without investing in any one sliver to any significant degree, Moon Hunters fails to impress for long. It feels like a Frankenstein of concepts that never really homogenizes. Its brevity almost makes it feel like a trial or demo game at points. Single players will find the game a breeze, while those playing with friends might find the game more enjoyable, but with an expensive price tag for the group. If you’re really into co-op games like Diablo, which is probably the closest it gets, then you could definitely do worse. But it was like walking along a flat street while holding a tall box, expecting to walk into a pothole or trip over a sidewalk soon enough but never actually encountering any, leaving you with a weird feeling of non-expectation. Moon Hunters is a great foundation for a game that never fully reaches any peak, hitting a plateau early on without budging.
Good. In general, worth picking up if you’re a fan of the genre, but doesn’t do much with their concepts or mechanics. May contain some big caveats. Played on a PC using a review copy sent out by the developer.