Genre: Action, Simulation
System: Nintendo Switch (also on PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Developer/Publisher: Digital Sun / 11 bit studios
Age Rating: 7+ (UK & EU) | 10+ (US)
Price: £22.49 | €24,99 | $24.99
Release Date: 4th November 2018
No review code was provided; I bought the game myself.
Will has two lives. In day hours he’s a humble merchant, running the family store. At night, he straps on a sword and risks his life dungeon-diving for artifacts. Moonlighter, an action/shopkeeping game, reflects the two halves of Will’s life through its gameplay and balances them perfectly.
For someone who isn’t good at action games, I found the combat a real but manageable challenge. What drew me to Moonlighter was the shopkeeping element, and it did not disappoint. The lovely ring of my cash register never failed to delight!
The gameplay of Moonlighter is a simple but fun cycle: After Zelda-esque combat in dungeons, Will returns to town to sell dungeon loot.
The money you make from selling loot is used to buy healing potions, better weapons, and better armor. It’s the only way to boost Will’s stats and equip him for tougher dungeons.
There are four dungeons to be unlocked in turn: Golem Dungeon, Forest Dungeon, Desert Dungeon, and Tech Dungeon. Each has unique terrain, monsters, and artifacts, providing a nice change of scenery as you progress through the game.
Moonlighter provides further variety in the combat experience by letting you choose from 5 different weapon types: short sword and shield, spear, big sword, gauntlets, or bow.
It’s up to you which fighting style feels most comfortable. For example, some players love the bow, which lets Will attack from a distance. Others prefer the gauntlets, which puts Will in close quarters with the enemy but allows him to box their ears at lightning speed.
Being poor at action games, I found the combat tough at first but soon got the hang of how to dodge, hit enemies at the right distance, and use the right weapon.
After two or three dungeons, though, combat began to feel stale and not very exciting. In particular, boss fights got boring as they involved minimal strategy and just a ton of button-mashing.
But my motivation to keep going was fueled by the shopkeeping portion of Moonlighter, which I enjoyed more than combat. Whenever you defeat monsters, they drop loot—and loot means new stock for the shop! Finding new artifacts is pretty exciting, and they get increasingly valuable with each dungeon.
Back at the shop, you decide what artifacts to sell and how much to price them. This, for me, was the fun of Moonlighter—figuring out the value of an artifact. You do this by watching the facial expressions of customers, which run a spectrum of five emotions: overjoyed, satisfied, reluctant, disappointed, and angry.
Based on customer reactions, you adjust item prices with the aim of finding that sweet spot: The highest price they’re still willing to pay. This sweet spot changes occasionally, depending on the rise and fall of an item’s popularity. Flood the market with too many fruit bowls and you risk decreasing their value.
You also have to be attentive to who walks into your shop. Thieves abound, and they’ll try to run off with stock. Later in the game, you can hire a shop assistant to help you man the store and catch thieves, but I found my assistant too slow-footed and had to tackle the pilferers myself.
The shop assistant is only one of many additions you can make. You can expand the size of your shop and add features that boost income, increase customers, deter thieves, etc.
You can even “expand” the town of Rynoka itself, by investing in up to four merchants and a banker. These guys will make you potions, better weapons and armor, and so on.
I only wish the game allowed me to expand the inventory size of Will’s backpack, the one he carries while dungeon-diving. Will’s backpack is limited to 20 item slots. The slots fill up pretty fast, and you’ll soon have to decide what to leave behind.
Thankfully, early in the game you receive a magic mirror which lets you sell items instantly (while still in a dungeon) but at a small fraction of their value. I was glad for the mirror, but I still found myself spending too much time managing inventory. For instance, some cursed artifacts will destroy an adjacent item and have to be positioned carefully in your backpack. So arranging and re-arranging takes up more time than I care to spend.
Yet, the game deters you from dilly-dallying in dungeons. If you spend too long on any dungeon floor, an undefeatable monster appears and starts hunting you down. This might sound annoying, but it keeps you playing a good pace.
The overall moonlighting experience
Nice pixel art and a fantastic soundtrack really enhance the Moonlighter experience. Aside from shopkeeping, the next best thing I enjoyed about the game was its music.
Inventory management is tedious (especially on the Switch). But on the flipside, the 20-slot limit of Will’s backpack keeps dungeon runs short and at lower stakes. “Die” in combat and you’ll simply be spat out of the dungeon, losing most of your backpack’s inventory. This isn’t so bad since you can’t carry very much to begin with.
What gives Moonlighter effective momentum is that it propels you between dungeon and shop constantly. I like that you can play in fairly short sessions—say, 15 to 20 minutes at a go. There are no manual saves. Rather, the game saves automatically when you enter or leave dungeons, and when you close shop every evening.
I finished the game in 15 hours. It was the right length for me, as I began to find combat boring around the 12-hour mark. So if you’re looking primarily for an action game, Moonlighter might be a little pricey in relation to quality.
But if you’re looking for a shopkeeping game and don’t mind the real-time fighting element, give Moonlighter a go!
Verdict: I like it!