Moon Hunters is a strange one. At first glance, the expectation is one of a fantasy adventure based around a series of characters, but the reality is a little different. It’s more-or-less a dungeon crawler, but what makes it unique is the way it tells its story and how no two playthroughs will ever be the same, thanks to its randomly generated levels.
After choosing your character from an initial batch of four (which can grow to six, once you find the others within the game world), you make your way to the great feast at your home village, in honour of the moon. When the sun falls beneath the horizon and the moon is nowhere to be found, the village chief sends you on a quest to find out why the moon doesn’t rise. The trouble is, you only have five days to solve this mystery before the treacherous Sun Cult descends upon you (and up to three of your friends) and unleashes its ultimate weapon.
During each day you’ll choose a place to visit on the world map, as you search for a means to restore the moon. It is during these days that your character’s story will be formed, as you meet various people and creatures, with your actions towards them governing how you will be remembered. Without a traditional story to fill the gap between the beginning and end of each playthrough, Moon Hunters’ unique brand of storytelling will allow you to build your own. It’s a true roleplaying experience in that respect. At the end of each level, you will make camp for the night, giving you the option to rest, cook, hunt and more, all of which will affect your stats in different ways. You can only choose one option however, before you camp for the night and advance to the next day.
The daylight sections form the meat of the gameplay, as you hack, slash and shoot your way through forests, swamps and mountain passes. The moon’s disappearance has turned the world’s animals into snarling beasts, meaning you’ll have to butcher half the animal population to progress. But hey, they drop money, so at least you get rich off of all that murdering of the natural world. It’s an odd design choice in a game so steeped in magic and the laws of nature, but it’s at least explained in the game’s plot. The controls are as simple as its gameplay, with a dash/teleport button (depending on character choice), a special attack button and a standard attack button, alongside an action button for speaking to NPCs and interacting with various parts of the environment. There is a form of twin-stick shooting for ranged characters too, but the awkward combination of the right stick and Square button makes it extremely uncomfortable to use. Luckily you can aim using the left stick too, standing still while aiming your attacks, but it just baffles the mind why right-stick aiming was even included.
Combat is straight forward, but it’s not always easy thanks to some iffy hit detection at times. Attacks that should surely hit, will miss for no reason, or sometimes the attack will aim in completely the wrong direction, all the while enemies can hit you without even facing in your direction. These are rare issues, but they are there and can be very frustrating, especially when you’re low on health. Death only loses you money and a day of game time, but when each playthrough offers such a limited amount of time in the game world, it can be the difference between getting the true ending or just another standard ending.
Getting the real ending is the main goal of Moon Hunters, and it is not an easy task. Even if you do discover how to trigger it, it’s not guaranteed that you will find the right place to do so, thanks to the random world generation. But Moon Hunters is just as much about the journey as it is the destination, and creating a legacy for your chosen character is an interesting experience. Traits are picked up along the way, depending on how you interact with NPCs, determining whether you will be remembered as compassionate, vengeful, foolish, or something else entirely. When playing in co-op, these decisions are based on a voting system, with each player choosing their response to a situation and the majority choice wins. At the end of each game, your character’s story will be fully revealed, including how they are remembered by the people of the world, though sometimes the traits seem randomly assigned.
Co-op is billed as a big part of Moon Hunters, though it is easily playable alone too. Most of the characters are strong enough to tackle combat by themselves, but can compliment another player as well. Melee and ranged characters work together best, as they always do in these types of games, but only the supporting Songweaver really feels like she was made specifically for co-op play. Multiplayer is only available locally on PS4 though, which is baffling considering the PC version offers online co-op, but hopefully the console version will get that treatment in a later update.
Moon Hunters is certainly an interesting game, then. Its unique brand of storytelling works very well and its brevity encourages repeat plays (each playthrough will likely last between 30-60 minutes, I myself finished it four times in one sitting), and its pixel art visuals look great. A few bugs aside, including some framerate jumps, the game is very playable and quite fun. But creating your own, individual lore for each character is where Moon Hunters shines.
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