With each passing day the Switch cements itself ever more as the home of some fantastic and unique indie games, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Carrying on in this tradition is Moon Hunters, a successfully funded Kickstarter project that promises a roguelike co-op RPG experience with a high amount of replayability. It delivers on this promise, too, though there are a few issues that hold it back from being an absolute classic.
The premise of Moon Hunters is quite interesting, in that it is slowly filled out as you replay the game over and over. As a worshipper of the Moon Goddess you and your village prepare a feast to celebrate the moonrise, but the moon fails to show up. You set out to find out why, and soon encounter the self-proclaimed king of the Sun Cult, who says he’ll destroy you in three days. How it all ends, and indeed how the rest of it fills in, ultimately is decided by how you play the game and what choices you make. It works well and rewards repeat playthroughs; the world is quite a mystery at the start, and this makes you want to keep playing to fill in details and piece together events, not unlike the storytelling style of Dark Souls.
As you adventure across deserts and mountains and forests, you’ll come across a series of procedurally generated events that propose two options for you. Do you choose to drink the soup you just found, or wait for someone to exit the tent? Do you help this old man walk up the mountain, or do you discourage him? There are no right or wrong answers, but every choice will boost different stats and give you different traits, like “Foolish” or “Patient”, which will in turn affect how you are remembered when that hero’s story ends.
Gameplay could most closely be described as a roguelike Hyper Light Drifter. You start by selecting a class type — all of which play the same in terms of their foundations but have different nuances — and then you pick a village to start in. From there, you can select areas to visit on the world map and work to clear them of monsters and enemies. Along the way you encounter various events as mentioned above, and once you reach the end of the area you can choose a few stats to boost. This cycle repeats for about an hour and then you “beat” the game, but the gimmick is that you keep doing it over with different heroes so that you can explore different branching paths and uncover more of the story.
Combat is simple but satisfying, though it becomes infinitely easier as the run goes on and your character becomes more overpowered. Everyone has a basic attack, a crowd control attack, and an escape move, with the latter two depending on an energy bar that refills quickly. It’s fun to play as new heroes and discover how they differ from the other. One character’s crowd control attack might be a beam of energy that can reach across the screen, while another’s is an area of effect push that blasts back any enemies within a certain distance. It works well and there’s just enough diversity that each class feels unique, but just enough of the same that it isn’t a radical shift when you choose another hero; it’s rather like the balance of characters in Super Smash Bros.
Exploration is the other half of the core gameplay, as you explore sprawling areas in search of things to do that upgrade your character. Though there aren’t strictly any experience points, killing enemies often nets you opals, which can be exchanged with merchants for upgrades to your character, like higher damage or quicker cooldowns. It works well enough, though opals are given out quite generously, so it doesn’t take long before your character is a nearly un-killable machine. This extends to the stat boosts that come from events, too. After the first day or so your character will likely be in a spot where most enemies can be killed in a couple of hits and there are very few that can put up a serious fight. Combat is dynamic and interesting, which keeps things fun, but it can be a bit stifling when you get hoarded by enemies and kill all of them without too much trouble.
Though the game is fun when playing in single player, it supports up to four in co-op, and this is where the gameplay shows its greatest strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, it can be great fun having a well-balanced group of players with abilities that mix well; fighting monsters and exploring strange lands is much more enjoyable when it’s a team effort shared with others. On the other hand, the game becomes even easier when you throw in some friends, and it can be a bit frustrating if you’re looking for more than the pathetic resistance most enemies put up. Even so, the co-op mode is well implemented — with neat features like voting on dialogue options — and the support for split Joy-Con play is quite convenient for impulse sessions. Beyond that, the length of one story run is just enough that it keeps everyone engaged without losing too much pace.
On the presentation side of things Moon Hunters is top notch. Retro-style indie games are a dime a dozen nowadays, but the pixel art of Moon Hunters stands above its peers with superior spritework and animation quality. Colours pop off the screen, and environments are rich with minor details; it’s quite clear that a good deal of time was dedicated to the art and it was time well spent; the land of Issaria feels like a very real place at times. The music is similarly impressive, sporting a series of low-key tracks that fall somewhere between the music of Minecraft and Metroid Prime. It does a fantastic job of creating an air of mystery around the world and that just serves to pull you in even more.
We have one notable gripe with Moon Hunters, however, and that is the load times. They can vary depending on the size of the environment or building that you are entering, ranging from mostly unnoticeable to absolutely frustrating. We had a few instances where we timed the loading screens of the larger areas, and the clock ran over two minutes. Granted, the loading screens aren’t a deal breaker, but it’s a disappointing blemish on an otherwise excellent game.
All told, Moon Hunters is a wonderful roguelike RPG that is quite unlike anything else available on the Switch, offering a bite-sized, engaging adventure that is extremely replayable and can be enjoyed both alone and with friends. Though there are some issues with the easy difficulty and the occasionally heinous load times, we still give this one a strong recommendation. Moon Hunters offers a lot with a relatively small amount of content, and you’ll likely find yourself revisiting this one for quite some time.