Moonlighter is a new indie game from developer Digital Sun and published by 11 bit studios. Funded via Kickstarter, the game is the latest entry in the resurging retro game movement, using 16-bit style graphics. Some gamers may be thinking “Another retro game?!” What makes Moonlighter so special though is its unique combination of a typical action RPG, like The Legend of Zelda, and shopkeeping simulator. I usually don’t go for simulator games but I was intrigued by the retro graphics and ARPG aspects, both things I usually love.
Moonlighter’s title is in itself a play on the term, “moonlighting” or when someone takes a second job, presumably at night. I honestly can’t think of a more perfect name for this game. Players take on the role of Will, a shopkeeper in the town of Rynoka. This little town used to be a hub of excitement due to the mysterious dungeons that appeared nearby years ago. These dungeons brought two different types of people to Rynoka, merchants and adventurers, each looking for the priceless loot that monsters inside the dungeons dropped. One day though, the people choose to close up the dungeons, as just too many people would go in and never return. Fast forward and now the town is dying out and Will, the son of a merchant who made his life hunting for loot, finds himself with an opportunity to explore the first dungeon.
Moonlighter is basically two games in one. During the day hours, players run the shop named Moonlighter. Players have space allocated to place items they gathered up for sale. Once you initiate and open for business, customers will come in and start browsing. They will look at items and emote four different faces. One big frown if the item is overpriced, one if the item is higher priced than they like, but will still purchase it, a smiling face if they like the price, and finally a huge smile with gold coin eyes if its a super low price. If any of the faces besides a big frown appear, they will take that item to the front counter and get in line. Players must juggle restocking, using the emotes and notebook to properly price items, and run back to the counter to finalize the sale in time or risk impatient customers leaving. Some customers will also emote when entering, looking for specific items or showing they are big spenders. The addition of thieves keeps it interesting as well, if they shoplift, Will can tackle them and get his item back if you are quick enough. This continues for about a minute or so in real time, an in game day. Afterwards you will get a report of items sold and stolen. Once the sun goes down, it’s time to close up and head out, you need to restock!
While you can choose to enter dungeons during the day, the loot is typically better at night and I recommend it to keep a good cycle of gathering and selling. If you choose though, you can take a snooze in your bed at the shop to fast forward to the following day or night. Once exiting your shop, Will equips his weapon and can leave town. Head to the door and get literally sucked into a randomly generated, overhead view, section by section dungeon. Each room will have enemies to defeat and pits to avoid by dodge rolling over them. Each of the four dungeons has three floors with enemies getting tougher as you progress. At the end of each themed dungeon will be a boss, once defeated the next opens up. Each one has specific items that the monsters drop that will also increase in value. Combat is one of the weaker parts of Moonlighter, melee with the starting sword and shield can be cumbersome until you figure out the quirky hitbox and timing. Once I crafted a bow as my secondary weapon, combat got much better. I would generally dodge roll, range down any range attacking monsters and then kite the others around, only swapping to sword when needed for smaller blobs usually. There are other weapons that can be crafted, but I found the two handed sword and staff to be even more unwieldy and the gloves required such close combat I always ended up hurt. Don’t get me wrong, combat is very fun in Moonlighter once you get the hang of it. Just be sure to bring healing potions with you.
Speaking of potions, crafting is a huge part of Moonlighter. Players will start with the blacksmith who can make you various weapons using the items you acquired. You can mark them so a star will appear on ones you are wanting as not to sell them accidentally. This also helps prioritize items when your bags start to get full. Eventually Will can purchase upgrades for the town and his shop, acquiring a potion maker/enchanter, another retailer (if you are lazy and want to just pay outright for a crafting need), a guy who sells decorations for your shop, and a banker. I found combat easier if I took the time to farm materials in the early parts of a dungeon for weapon and armor upgrades before heading to the boss. This cycle of kill, collect, create, sell, and upgrade was addictive. I couldn’t put Moonlighter down. There was always something new to do, this is what makes Moonlighter so damn good.
Eventually as you start to emass riches, Will can upgrade his shop. Just like the Tardis, it’s somehow always bigger on the inside. This will add more spots to sell items and places for decorations. These are not just for show, they will do everything from increase the amount a buyer “tips” you, to how long you can stay open, or how many customers can be in the shop at once. I highly recommend the percentage based increases to your sales, these go a long way to getting you the money for equipment faster. You even get a helper eventually who can catch shoplifters and also run the store while you are out for a huge percent of the sales.
Moonlighter looks fantastic, like a classic SNES game. The bosses are screen filling and while not difficult once you get the pattern down, they are fun. Moonlighter was just so much fun for me as a whole. The music is a highlight, with catchy tunes I would put up there with Final Fantasy and other great SNES era games. The only issues I had were some clunky combat and I wish I could buy a bag upgrade. Space became an issue and eventually like a mini game, as many items found in chests have some “curse” that will effect another item in your bag. But if you don’t want to mess with it, you can always just “disenchant” them for gold with your magic mirror, no fuss, just cash. Once you have a bag full of stuff to sell or craft with, you can pay a fee and your magic pendant will teleport you back. You can even create a Diablo style portal that will stay open to your last location for a much larger fee. For me all of this goal oriented and various gameplay added up to constant enjoyment. The worst part about Moonlighter was that after 15+ hours, I beat the final boss and now I want more!!