I’m two floors into my most recent foray into this wretched dungeon. My back aches from the sheer weight of the loot in my rucksack. I should go home and open the shop but I want to see what lies ahead. Hang on… I don’t just want to see what’s ahead, I NEED to see what’s ahead. There’s money to be made here and I’ve got a village to save! I pull the straps of my rucksack tight, adjust my helmet and check my spear is still sharp. I will push ahead, even if it nearly kills me.
Moonlighter, from Digital Sun and 11 bit Studios, is a dungeon crawler with a twist. Taking inspiration from The Legend of Zelda with a sprinkling of Stardew Valley seems like an odd fit, but it’s a match made in heaven.
Players take control of Will, the last in a long line of shopkeepers who moonlight as adventurers. Things aren’t well in your sleepy village. The dungeons have been sealed because too many before you died and it looks like life in this quaint part of the world will need to move on to survive. You must save the village, you can’t let this place die. You’re warned, over and over, that it’s dangerous out there. Here take this broom. Huh?
You’ll fight through five individually themed dungeons that cover various themes. Each consists of three main floors and a boss who must be dispatched in order to progress. Many enemies will stand in your way but everything will furnish you with sweet, sweet loot that you can sell in your little store. Each dungeon has a diverse cast of beasties with a mixture of the familiar as well as types unique to each area. Bosses are huge and will punish those foolish enough to be unprepared to challenge them. Each dungeon is also procedurally generated and changes every time you leave or get knocked out so it keeps things fresh. Later upgrades allow you to lock it’s current layout but all enemies return even if the loot chests don’t. Lore is also sprinkled throughout via notes and books left by a previous explorer, which helps give the world some added flavour. It feels like a place that’s been lived in for generations.
The main gameplay loop sees you killing everything in sight, filling your limited storage space and returning to town to sell what you’re gleaned from your adventure. The money earned can then be used to upgrade weapons and armour as well as upgrade your shop and buy trinkets to decorate the place. Saving the village is paramount and attracting more vendors allows you to unlock a host of boosts or buy the few odds and ends you may be missing for your next upgrade.
Whilst I’m on the point of loot, each trip is a fun little mini game of balance. Do you look for the items you need and get out or do you drive forward for newer, more expensive items that you can sell? Managing your limited storage space will see you discard the tat in favour of high end items the majority of the time, but even then modifiers will make you consider their place in your bag. Some items will destroy things already in your bag. Others might immediately send things home freeing up some much needed space. There’s also mystery items which only reveal what they are once you return. Some will get frustrated with the loot management but it adds a welcome wrinkle to the looting which could otherwise become stale very quickly.
The selling part is pretty straightforward. Place your wares on the tables, set the prices and see who bites. If it’s too high or too low, your customers display little emote bubbles to let you know. You also need to look out for shady shoplifters who can be tackled to retrieve your items. The scoundrels! Items also increase and decrease in popularity but in reality I found the items would sell regardless.
Combat is a simple affair with a variety of close range weaponry which have different benefits as well as bows. Surprisingly there is no magic but the tools you have available all suffice provided you constantly upgrade them. This is the only way to level up, there is no XP grinding, coin is the only resource you need to worry about.
It has a beautiful 16-bit aesthetic and plays from the same perspective as classics like The Legend of Zelda and The Binding of Isaac. As I said previously, each area has a unique theme and vary from bright and colourful to dark and dreary. It’s well animated and I didn’t experience any hiccups or hitches in performance during my many hours of gameplay. The music and sound effects all reflect the environment you are in and do well to help set the tone. Its got a distinct feel but we’re definitely in fantasy territory here. It’s bright and breezy without feeling twee or getting irritating.
I put a good few hours into Moonlighter and at times it can feel like you’re grinding for your next upgrade. Some items initially feel wildly expensive but as you advance to later dungeons the selling prices do scale in tandem. Sensible play and knowing when to get out are key to your success as is balancing shop improvement, town expansion and equipment upgrades.
I loved my time in Moonlighter’s world and if you have a soft spot for old school action RPGs like Zelda but yearn for a new twist on the formula, you can’t go wrong here. Combat is uncomplicated, it looks delightful and it has a really nice soundtrack. The core gameplay loop is fulfilling and it’s easy to find yourself lost in the moment to moment gameplay. I heartily recommend having a look regardless of whether you have time for another game or not.
• Lovely aesthetic
• Satisfying gameplay loops
• Interesting world to explore
• Can feel a bit grindy