“TWRM GOTY 2018” – Moonlighter

The TWRM GOTY 2018 Collab has begun! This special event consists of multiple writers making their best cases for their picks for GOTY 2018. Check out each article posted daily from the 1st through the 15th and listen to their points, then on January 16th you will have the opportunity to vote on which game you think should be crowned TWRM GOTY of 2018!

 

Moonlighter

Developers: Digital Sun
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Platform/Console: PS4
Genre: Action RPG

 

2018 was a great year for indies! You don’t have to go far to demonstrate that: a certain indie was a GOTY nominee at The Game Awards in 2018, indies are popping up all over “best of” lists across the internet, and our own GOTY event here at TWRM features numerous indie nominees up for the coveted top spot.

Indies offer a lot of innovation for the playing field, as well as singular focus, unique themes and aesthetics ditching realism for the surreal, anachronistic, and symbolic, as well as manageability (you don’t have to sit through 100+ hours of cutscenes or side quests to enjoy an indie). Now don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of strong AAA titles this year, some of them practically built for the GOTY crown, and their quality of performances and use of technology, not to mention budget, isn’t rivaled by indies.

However, if 2018 in gaming taught us anything, it’s that the independent development scene provides just as valid and noteworthy experiences as the biggest titles of the year.

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With me so far? That takes us neatly to Moonlighter, the adventure, roguelike indie that I nominated for #TWRMGOTY2019.

First off, it’s an indie: thinking outside of the box, concise, compact, practical, nostalgic and fresh, inventive and addicting, not burdened or bloated by so much world-building or wilderness-walking, pretentiousness or over-design. It even avoids the opportunity to merely pander! Affordability is never really factored into a GOTY vote, but c’mon, we all have wallets that do our voting for us.

In food analogy terms, Moonlighter is a well-proportioned and well-seasoned filet mignon cooked to your exact specifications rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet where the greasy food is lukewarm because it’s been sitting out under the florescent lamps for too long, a restaurant where hype on Yelp has led you to believe the food’s a masterpiece.

Second, it’s got an extremely heavy Zelda vibe. That’s by design, no doubt, because who doesn’t like Zelda? Uhhh people who haven’t played Zelda! Moonlighter invites comparisons with games like A Link to the PastMinish Cap, and Link’s Awakening, the top-down Zelda games.

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Third, the premise: Moonlighter’s protagonist in Harvest Moonish fashion inherits a run-down shop, the Moonlighter, located nearby some mysterious underground ruins. Your task is to build up that shop into a sprawling titan of industry and amass magnificent wealth for yourself and for the town, attracting new businesses and vendors, by spelunking the depths of procedurally-generated dungeons. The treasures you grab below ground by night can be sold by day in your shop, with the proceeds going toward upgrades to make your merchant’s life even more indulgent and convenient.

This is a game that asks what the life of a humble shopkeeper NPC would look like if they were the playable character, rather than the heroes saving the universe all the time. In fact, adorably, some of your patrons in your shop are legendary warriors from other games! Look, Sir Auron!

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Fourth, Moonlighter capitalizes on the drive to collect, earn money, and be curious. Exploring the dungeons is a different experience every time thanks to the random layouts and you’ll feel the drive to go through just one more door or go down just one more level. Maybe there’s some super secret, super expensive item anticipating your eager hand to snatch it up.

However, what keeps things interesting is the risk factor involved. Curiosity and aspiration are weighted against the danger of losing it all, gambling, essentially. If you perish in the dungeons, they’ve spit you back out, unconscious, and you will have lost everything in your satchel. That’s right, and your shelves will be empty in the store that day! Fortune favors the bold, but also, you have to stay alive to be fortunate.

Fifth, the music. Moonlighter’s soundtrack avoids both pitfalls of over-ambient noise for music as well as predictable chiptune sensibilities in its soundtrack. Its musical verbosity is clearly displayed in the evolving melodies of the town of Rynoka. Visiting a different shop changes the theme of the town ever so elegantly. A unique sound design idea in an unique game.

 

Sixth, Moonlighter leaves you wanting more. It could be said of Moonlighter that it’s simply too short. That’s a little how I felt when I played it, but I ask you: is it better to end on a high note or over-stay your welcome? Yeah, thought so.

Seventh, finally, the original game has been expanded upon. The version I played left me wanting more and more has been added. Note, not so much more as to leave fat hanging off its meat, but more enough to give players new avenues for exploring this brief and beautiful world. A new game plus mode has been added, in addition to new treasures, weapons, amulets, fixes, and quality of life updates. The game is better than ever.

So… there are seven good, honest reasons to vote for Moonlighter. This was one of the real standout games I played in 2018.

Go #TeamMoonlighter! Sell on, you crazy merchant!

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Pros:
+ Fluid animation
+ Great soundtrack
+ Plenty of variation within the gameplay
+ Core gameplay balanced with non-roguelike elements
+ Emphasizes player choice
+ Zelda-esque without being pandering
+ Leaves you wanting more
+ Everything good about indies
+ Plenty of personality, not over-produced, non-corporatized homogeneity

Cons:
– Too short
– Emphasis on inventory management
– Randomized elements, mileage may vary

 

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