Review: Moon Chronicles: Episode 1 (3DS eShop)

Down the hatch...

Renegade Kid originally released first-person shooter Moon on the DS with publisher Mastiff in 2009, though sales were relatively modest — this episodic digital re-release, retitled Moon Chronicles, will be the first time many players experience the game. The 3DS isn't always considered ideal for first-person shooters, but Moon Chronicles shows that the genre can be done quite well on the device. Episode 1: One Small Step is a good introduction to the gameplay, story and structure of Moon Chronicles, but also exposes a few flaws that are likely to plague the rest of the experience.

Taking place in the near future of 2058, Moon Chronicles places players in the shoes of Major Kane, an everyman soldier who has come to investigate a recently discovered hatch on Earth's moon. Shortly after arriving and being briefed by a researcher called Tsukigami and the no-nonsense General Lambert on the hatch's possible connection to the Roswell incident, there's a deadly event to set the scene. Kane goes to investigate, and after accidentally inhaling a strange blue substance heads down into the hatch to to discover whatever secrets may be hiding below.

The story is compelling in a B-movie kind of way; all the archetypes are here, and it's clear from the beginning that Lambert and Tsukigami know more than they're letting on. None of the characters develop beyond "stoic soldier," "tough-talking General" and "overzealous scientist," but the voice acting is decent and the story never interrupts the proceedings for very long. The more compelling story content comes from optional logs that the player can examine, which suggest a sinister, dark project gone horribly wrong.

There are a wealth of control options in Moon Chronicles, from the default circle pad/stylus combination to compatibility with the Circle Pad Pro. Moving with the circle pad and looking around with the stylus isn't ideal for those whose hands cramp easily, but the controls are responsive and only take a few moments to get used to. Shooting is done with the left shoulder button, and the two guns encountered in the game shoot and feel distinct from each other. Players will also come across the Remote Access Droid, which is used to access small areas that Major Kane can't reach. You control the Droid in first person, while Kane waits, and there is a nice amount of tension when enemies approach Kane while you're rushing to disable a forcefield or grab a hidden item. If Kane or the Droid are killed, the player must start over from their last save point; the save points are spaced evenly throughout the map, but it was occasionally frustrating to get killed and have to retread the same area.

Enemies, which range from flying orbs to robotic spiders, drop health or ammo upon being killed and don't respawn. As there is a fair amount of backtracking in Moon Chronicles, players will greatly appreciate not having to go up against the same enemies over and over. Episode 1 has a small number of boss battles, meanwhile, and while they're challenging they're never cheap. Unfortunately, most of the common enemies all look alike, which detracts from the otherwise-compelling mystery and sense of discovery; there is much to discover — fans of Metroid will enjoy finding health and ammo upgrades.

Towards the end of Episode 1, and as shown in the launch trailer, you'll get to drive Lola, a moon rover. The driving is third-person, not unlike the Borderlands series, and can shoot while while moving. Lola controls quite smoothly, but you'll only use it briefly; hopefully, there will be more "Lola missions" throughout the next episodes. In addition to the main game, players can unlock a special training mission after collecting three alien artifacts. The training mission will have players fighting all the enemies they've encountered, which can be helpful for those trying to get better "accuracy" scores at the end of each chapter — each chapter becomes re-playable upon completion.

Moon Chronicles runs extremely smoothly at a constant 60 frames per second, even with the 3D effect turned on. Unfortunately, the visuals are quite drab, with flat textures and reused assets. Most rooms look identical to one another, and the generic "sci-fi" colour palette doesn't make for a visually exciting experience; the cutscenes are nicely rendered, but most of the character models look too similar. The music, meanwhile, is serviceable and moody, but doesn't leave a lasting impression.

One other technical note — we encountered a glitch during the first boss battle in Chapter 2 when we left the boss room to save and returned, only to find that the boss was gone, preventing us from collecting a pivotal item and continuing the game. After trying to figure out what happened, we ultimately had to start over. We're sure that Renegade Kid will fix this in a patch, but for now, be aware of the bug.

Conclusion

Moon Chronicles is a nice, unique addition to the eShop. The episodic structure makes for a relatively short playing time, but the experience is well-crafted and often-exciting, which will leave players eager to play the remaining three episodes as they are released. Gamers who already played Moon on the DS won't find anything different here, but for everyone else Moon Chronicles is easy to recommend.

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