In Moonlighter, everyone wants to make a name for themselves. Some heroes traverse the most dangerous dungeons in search of adventure, while other merchants try to make a living by finding items in these dark labyrinths. You play as a guy named Will who is trying to accomplish both of these tasks. You see, he’s someone who dreams of being a hero, but doesn’t have time to do so after inheriting a shop to run called Moonlighter.
Moonlighter is split into two distinct gameplay loops; a dungeon crawler and a shop-keeping simulator. This sounds like a weird combination, but it works so well that I’m surprised we don’t see this in other video games. You enter dungeons to fight enemies, acquire the items they drop, and then sell them for a profit. Players are given an interesting choice. You can sell the items you collect, or you can keep them for yourself. Hoarding items will help upgrade your equipment and craft new things in the long run. If you decide an item is not worth keeping, you can always resort to selling it. By selling items, you can use the money earned to upgrade the shop (adding more tables, building more chests to store items, installing a bigger tip jar) and even bring in new vendors into the town
Running a store never seemed like an easy job, and if Moonlighter is any indication, I never want to own a store in real life. You have to set up tables, place items on those structures, pick a price for each item, and then watch as the customers roll in to buy from your store. Paying attention is vital because customers will express one of four possible emotions when looking at what you’re selling, with each emotion tied to the pricing of your items. From being content with getting a bargain to becoming sad because an item is overpriced, you need to look at what your customers are saying and adjust prices accordingly. Being speedy is also recommended because customers will come in and out of your store. The chances are good that a lot of items will be found during dungeon crawling, and you’ll want to sell as much as possible. If a customer is dissatisfied with pricing, run to the table and change it immediately. Play around with how much you’re selling an item for and see how your customers will react. There’s trial and error when it comes to running Moonlighter, but the rewards are usually worth the hard work. There’s a lot to do in the town that it almost feels like Moonlighter is, in fact, two different video games.
In contrast to the shopkeeping side of the game, dungeon crawling is where all of the action is. Fans of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Enter The Gungeon will feel right at home in the dungeons. Every single dungeon consists of three levels with a boss at the end. Each floor is made up of a labyrinth-like structure where players must find the exit. In Moonlighter, every dungeon is randomly generated, which means that you will never experience the same thing twice whenever you step foot into one of the game’s four dungeons. This is a blessing and a curse because occasionally, you’ll start a dungeon and all of the enemies early on will be difficult. On the other hand, you can get lucky, and the journey will be a cakewalk.
The four dungeons feature unique enemies that each yield their own type of items to be sold in the store. The trouble with the dungeon crawling is that you’ll come across items too quickly, thus filling your bag in no time. There are a few options once you run out of space. Will carries a magic mirror that can convert items into gold. If you see items that aren’t needed or don’t sell well in the shop, selling them for a quick profit in the mirror is a useful strategy. If you’re taking too much damage and are about to die, hold down the B button and an amulet will take you back to town. Lastly, there’s another amulet ability that will teleport your character back to town, with an option to return to the exact place you left off in the dungeon. Using both amulet functions will cost a specific amount of gold (the price differs from time to time), but spending gold in dungeons can be the difference between life and death.
Dying inside of a dungeon will not only send you back to town, but every single item you collect in that specific run will be dropped. Unfortunately, there’s a risk/reward system in Moonlighter. Knowing your ability is the key to survival. Sometimes it’s best to test your luck but other times, knowing when to run away is the best skill you can possess.
Moonlighter has an old-school visual charm with a wonderful 2D aesthetic. The sprites are vibrant, the environments are eye-popping, and the colors are excellent. Just like so many retro video games, the audio elements are a treat for the ears. Unfortunately, Moonlighter is not without its faults. Occasionally, the screen would dim and I had to reboot the game to fix the issues. In the first dungeon, I encountered a few slowdowns when a bunch of enemies were on screen at once.
Moonlighter is a game that shouldn’t work on paper. A dungeon crawler mixed with roguelike elements and a shopkeeping mechanic sounds absurd. Against all odds, though, Moonlighter is an absolute delight that will provide hours of enjoyment. Between the mix of modern gameplay elements and it’s old-school influences, Moonlighter is a classic in the making. It’s a game that caught me off-guard, and I can’t stop thinking about how awesome the game is. If you’re interested in an innovative indie game, give Moonlighter a shot. I guarantee that you’ll find something to love.