I’ve often bemoaned the lack of shop-keeping sub-games in Rogue-likes. Well, I haven’t really, but obviously some bright spark at Digital Sun and 11-bit Studios did, because essentially that’s the basis of Moonlighter.
In Moonlighter you play as Will, who owns the local store (appropriately called Moonlighter) in a town called Mynoka. By day Will works the till, selling his goods to the local tourists who all visit the town because of the nearby dungeons. These are five, mystical portals to other worlds with fearsome creatures and boundless treasures, where death awaits those you enter unprepared. By night, Will visits these dungeons to slay the creatures within, collecting all the wonderful loot whilst desperately trying to solve the three floors of each dungeon to reach the boss that lies in wait. These treasures are what Will sells the very next day. And so lies the simplicity and addictiveness of Moonlighter. You see, to progress, Will needs to upgrade his armour and weapons which can only be done by introducing a Blacksmith into Rynoka, which costs money earned by selling treasures. Will also needs health potions, made by the potion maker, which also requires money to open. You are always only one (or perhaps more) successful dungeon run(s) away from that next upgrade. Both the town and your shop can be upgraded, and as you progress you can actually employ someone to manage the shop for you, leaving you to hit the dungeons a lot harder!
Death in the dungeons is not as punishing as in other Rogue-likes. There is no permanent death for Will. Instead he will find himself stripped of all treasure and booted back to the town. This could be potentially disastrous if it wasn’t for a few tricks Will has up his sleeve. Firstly is the magic amulet, that for the cost of a few hundred gold will teleport Will out of the dungeon with all his loot intact. There is also a teleporter, which for a few thousand coins will allow Will to travel back to the town, offload the current haul, and then allow him to return to the dungeon to continue on. All the dungeons are procedurally generated, so you’re never quite sure of what is through that next door. Each floor of each dungeon is progressively harder, but the treasure contained is of a higher value, so there is always an element of risk and reward.
Once you return to your store the secondary element of gameplay kicks in. You have to manually set the prices of the goods on offer to their optimum value, and the only way to find this out is by trial and error. When a customer looks at the price they react with a thought bubble above their heads. These reactions and selling prices are then stored in your trusty notebook so you can adjust accordingly on the next sale. You will also need to deal with shoplifters and react quickly to stop them stealing valuable items. As you progress through store upgrades you will also get requests from customers who want certain items on certain days, and will pay well over the odds for this privilege, which is a great way to earn money quickly. If you don’t have the goods it will mean more dungeon runs to collect them before the time runs out.
These dungeon runs and the creatures you face may look simple, but some rooms can be downright deadly. A walk through a door to find upwards of six enemies who will all chase you, or fire projectiles at you can result in your death quite quickly. Luckily, one room on each floor contains a healing pool, so you can always retrace your steps to heal if you have run out of health potions. However, take too long on each floor and a large monster will spawn to chase you until you teleport out or reach the exit. Enemies will need different strategies to defeat and you will need to modify your play style when you enter each room in order to get out alive.You do go equipped with a number of different weapons at your disposal. Although you start out with a broom, you soon earn enough money to buy a sword and shield, a bow or a spear in order to become a more effective killing machine. All of these can be upgraded by the Blacksmith, and enchanted by the Potion maker, so you’re always getting stronger and more powerful.
I always find it tricky to review a game when I haven’t actually completed it, but Moonlighter is a tough game to beat, assuming the end goal is to beat all four main dungeons to unlock the fifth, and beat that one too. I have put in over twenty hours and am still only on the third dungeon, but I’m pretty sure the gameplay isn’t going to change dramatically on later levels. Moonlighter is a really great game, as the balance between game modes is great, even if the shop-keeping element can sometimes feel a bit frustrating when it comes to reaching that sweet price point of items. There is a great deal of strategic thinking required when in the dungeon, whether or not is is worth pushing through to the next room and risk losing all of the loot, or to cut your losses and escape by using the amulet. Your inventory is limited as well, meaning at some points you are swapping the treasures around in order to maximise those profits back at the store. There is always that feeling of “just one more go” in order to earn enough cash for that next upgrade, at which point that feeling reappears as you then want to go back in to see just how much stronger you have got, and how further you can go.
Graphically its definitely inspired by those retro RPG’s of old, and the inside of your store and home looks gorgeous. Musically is very pretty as well, although as similar music plays throughout I did head for the options to turn that volume down. The creatures in the dungeons could do with a bit more detail in places, as some are just blobs, but even so they move and attack in their own specific way. Despite the gameplay feeling pretty spot-on I did have a few occasions where I did at times feel I was just grinding in order to get enough money to upgrade, but this was relieved by upgrading the store to the next level, which opened up the requests mechanic, which very quickly doubled the profits, but this wasn’t signposted to me at all, which some players will appreciate and some (like me) will not. I also found it restrictive that you couldn’t fire diagonally, which did add extra complexity to fighting as a lot of the enemies could move diagonally!
Moonlighter is also available for under £20 and the Xbox One version is also Xbox Play Anywhere, so you cross-save between the Xbox and PC version, which is an absolute bargain. I did look at purchasing for the Switch as well, but it is not available until September 27th 2018, so I guess I will have to wait!
A really great game, just go and buy it now!