Review: Moon Hunters (PS4)

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Title: Moon Hunters
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1.54 GB)
Release Date: July 19, 2016
Publisher: Jeux Kitfox Inc.
Developer: Kitfox Games
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: E10+
Moon Hunters is also available on PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
I came into Moon Hunters with full expectations and a preconceived notion that I would absolutely love it. Rarely do I fall victim to pretty pictures and stylized artwork. I’ve been gaming too long for that.

But I have to admit that this one hooked me with its style. Even the perceived Zelda-like gameplay prepared me for an experience that I would have no choice but to love.

Alas, while this is far from a bad game, my time with is was not nearly as memorable as I had hoped. Forgiven are the limited attack options my chosen character had. After all, Link only had the single stab for an entire campaign on Legend of Zelda. But why compare this to Zelda anyway?

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The story places you, and possibly your friends, in the role of warriors or mages in search of the missing moon. Throughout your mission you encounter various situations that call into question your personality, both as a character, but also as a player.

This ethical decision-making in a video game is not new. However, in certain situations the results are seen the moment you make a decision. If I chose, for example, to remain and fight instead of running from a situation, my character strength would increase. So, in essence you get stronger for your choices, not so much for grinding.

This is great, because one of my disappointments was the combat system. I didn’t expect something incredibly robust from a game that plants roots of simplicity over overblown graphics and gameplay.

… the enemies are more about charging blindly …
I was given the tools to defeat the enemies thrown at me, even the annoying “bumpy” ones. But it didn’t take long for me to grow somewhat bored with my options. Even upgrading my skills with a shopkeeper didn’t really give me enough variety to change things up.

You are given two forms of attack. My warrior had the traditional slash, which managed to keep enemies at bay. When I became surrounded, the Triangle button unleashed a radial blast that pushed the goons away, allowing me to reposition myself for another attack.

The Circle button, on the other hand, allowed me to dash. This became a necessary element to combat, because becoming surrounded was sometimes inevitable.

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You will be using that dash button a lot, because the enemies are more about charging blindly, magnetically almost, towards you with reckless abandon. And honestly, their strategy worked at times because I got my ass handed to me quite often initially.

I admit to a bit of confusion when I first started the game. I knew what I had to accomplish, but I found myself on a map with various locations I could visit. Each location had a small icon.

I picked the nearest one and was dropped into a location where I would engage enemies until I found an area where I was locked in with multiple enemies spawning at the same time. The limited combat area made it difficult to dash and attack, so I was ended pretty quickly.

… I’m supposed to be finding the moon …
Instead of game over, I was taken to a camp where I was given a choice on how to spend the night. I only had a few “game days” to finish my quest, so I also lost one of those days by dying. I could sleep, for example, but I could also stand watch, giving me a small boost to my overall character stats.

The second time around I did much better on the field. But, after a few hours, the combat grew stale and since I wasn’t really exploring the environment with the intent of discovery, I eventually lost a sense of purpose. Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be finding the moon.

When I finally encountered the overall boss, after my time ran out, I was defeated after giving him a decent fight. I was treated with an ending cinematic and was taken to the title screen. I expected to start the game again with my updated character, but he was nowhere to be found. Even my game save was gone. So game over is “game over”.

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Visuals:
Absolute win here. It’s these visuals that initiated my original excitement for this game. I’ve been following it for quite some time and every screenshot was more amazing and artistic than the last. Even the artwork in between stages, those that move the story along, are drawn and colored like images from a storybook.

The in-game artwork, however, is modern retro. Moon Hunters doesn’t really look like a dated game, but it has a pixelated style where color is manipulated in ways that make each location look like a piece of art.

Despite the simplistic looks, I was surprised by the number of times the game would “hiccup” when I was in the middle of combat. Hell, it even happened when I was just walking through the countryside. That’s inexcusable for a simple game like this.

… a difficult sell …
Audio:
Another win is the unforgettable musical score. It’s haunting at times and serene at others. Unfortunately there are some level issues, particularly in the cinematics, where the voiceover is barely heard over the music and sound effects. I had to pay attention to the captions because I could barely make out what the narrator was saying.

Online/Multiplayer:
I had to research this to ensure that I wasn’t missing something. Apparently Moon Hunters has online co-op available on PC, but it’s a feature that was lost on its way to PS4. This made testing out co-op difficult for this review. I only spent a few minutes playing with someone else.

While it certainly made the trudge through the enemies a bit easier to manage, the fact that the game is meant to be digested slowly with multiple playthroughs makes this a difficult sell in getting your buddies together for an hour-long romp. Online play would have made this a lot more accessible.

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Conclusion:
I tried to push through the fog of imperfections in order to love this game that I had anticipated for many months. Visually it still impresses, when frames aren’t skipping for no reason.

The loss of an online component that’s present on the PC is a huge hit against a game that was sold on the notion of cooperatively embarking on this quest of personality. Also, if you are expecting a long campaign full of discovery and exploration, it’s best to taper those expectations a bit.

There is a quest of discovery and some level of exploration, but it is conducted in little hour-long sessions and each quest comes to an end too quickly.

This leaves character development as more of a product of multiple playthroughs, which actually makes sense, since this is a game about storytelling and how our adventures are perceived by the people who are retelling our tales long after we are gone.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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  • That sounds like the worst possible way to have a game over for the campaign. That is quite brazen of them to delete your save after failing at the final boss.