Moonscars is – stop me if you’ve heard this one – a 2D soulslike with some metroidvania/roguelike elements mixed in, in which you explore a crumbling post-apocalyptic mediaeval fantasy world, engage with obscure story elements and cryptic NPCs, fight through tough enemies and tougher bosses, and where the challenge is high and death is frequent. No, wait, come back!
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Fun, fast paced combat|
+ Well balanced challenge
+ Interesting world design
|Negatives||– Hard to parse mechanics|
– Little stand out from the field
– Familiarity breeds contempt
|Price (When Reviewed)||£15.99|
|Our Playtime||5-6 hours|
|Available On||PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC|
Moonscars has the curse of being quite a good example of a genre that is getting increasingly crowded with very similar titles, and while it is perfectly competent, I’m not quite convinced that it does enough to stand out from the crowd. It’s closest stablemates would be the similarly retro-pixel art style of Blasphemous, though the combat has more of the fast-pace of Dead Cells, while it’s plot and deeper mechanics are more reminiscent of FromSoftware’s output – and not the nice, well polished Elden Ring but the more deliberately obscure and messy Dark and Demon’s Souls.
I’ll admit it does feel a little reductive to write about Moonscars almost entirely in comparison with other games in the genre, but it’s hard to imagine the game having much appeal to anyone not already well versed with the language of these games. It opens with a monologue that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and quickly drops you into its world of brutal, fast-paced combat. If you’re not coming to it with some expectation of how these games work it isn’t really ready to meet you halfway.
If, however, you are coming to Moonscars as a veteran of Lordran and other similar locales, there’s quite a bit to recommend. The combat, first and foremost, feels excellent. It’s fast paced and fluid in a way that not many of these games outside of Hollowknight or Dead Cells manage, and while I tend to prefer the slow and weighty style myself it does feel pretty good to dodge, slide and parry your way through a room of undead killers, dispatching them as you go without taking a hit. A key part of the play style is having failure feel like a consequence for your actions (or lack thereof), rather than randomness, and by and large this is something that Moonscars mostly nails.
Combat is a slight variance on the usual light-attack/heavy-attack, dodge/block mechanics. You have those, sure, but the heavy attack is more of a knock-back mechanic, while special secondary weapons add considerable customisation options to your build. A rogue-like element whereby upgrades are lost on death encourages mixing things up a little more than usual, and that this is pulled off without feeling punishing is a testament to the solid design and thought put into how these mechanics will work. The power-curve of the player is not the linear upwards trend you may expect, and that was certainly something I found refreshing.
Less refreshing was the game’s inability to clearly explain a lot of these mechanics, leading to a fair amount of trial-and-error. In a rogue-souls-metroid-castle-a-like I’m used to having to work to understand the cryptic hints towards a plot, but am less forgiving of the cryptic hints towards understanding the death and save point mechanics. Luckily the game is not overly punishing in its early stages, so there’s plenty of time to find your feet, but failing to explain this stuff clearly is certain to put some players off, especially those new to the genre.
Graphically Moonscars is very much going all-in with the pixel-art stylings that have become quite standard for the genre, and while it does look nice, a part of me wishes that some more designers would look to be a bit more adventurous. There is a reason that the settings of Hollowknight’s Hallownest or Tails of Iron’s not-Redwall have stuck with me beyond the island-prison of Dead Cells. Enemy design is interesting, with the different types of opponents mostly clearly recognisable, yet few stuck in my imagination.
Ultimately a failure to stick in the imagination is my main criticism of Moonscars. Had this game come out a few years earlier I would almost certainly be more favourable to it, but as it stands it feels a little too familiar to other games I’ve played extensively, and with not quite enough going for it to make it shine. It’s a blast to play, and the combat feels great, but when there are so many other games with that and great character, and great story, and great world-building, so there’s just not quite enough to drag me back in.
In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.