Behind every successful shopkeeper there is a brave warrior.
When I first heard about Moonlighter, two different things caught my attention. First, I was very impressed with the astonishing art style created by Digital Sun. They were able to illustrate their own fantasy world with a beautiful and detailed pixel art style – not to mention the complex animations of both characters and enemies. As if that wasn’t enough to make me want to play it, the game also had a curious premise. All the action-oriented segments serve a sole purpose: you control a shopkeeper who needs to collect items to sell at his store.
Explore dungeons to collect items to sell at your store.
With this idea, Moonlighter becomes a game with two very different gameplay styles that complement each other in addictive ways. The game’s protagonist, Will, inherited the once renowned Moonlighter store from an ancestor, and he now wants to bring it back to its full glory. In order to do that, he’ll delve into four different dungeons full of monsters and valuable goodies, accessed by portals. His time, then, needs to be divided between incursions into the dungeons and the management of his store.
The exploration of the four dungeons take place within a top-down perspective, which reminds of games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Each one of the gates open up to a different ambient, with their own unique visual and set of enemies. Here apply some light elements from the roguelike genre, because the maps are procedurally generated. Dying inside the dungeon results in the loss of all the items you’re current carrying in your backpack. Therefore, Moonlighter manages to create a good balance of risk and reward with its combat, without becoming too frustrating.
Be the shopkeeper: pay attention to your client’s reactions to find the right price.
Once you decide you collected enough items for that run, you can teleport back to town to open up for business. Your store consists of a whole micro-management game where you need to put each item on shelf and set the prices yourself. To help you find the perfect value for each item, you’ll need to watch your client’s reaction. They’ll show if the product is too cheap or overpriced with specific icons, which will also be saved on a book with all items listed. Surprisingly, this creates a very enjoyable mini-game where you’re always trying to make profit and improve your store and gear.
The money you get with your sales can be spent on improvements for the town, your store and your weapons and armor. With better gear, it gets easier to progress further into the dungeons. On later dungeons you get more valuable items, which can be sold to improve your store. This way, Moonlighter creates a very compelling gameplay loop that is always fresh thanks to the constant change of passing.
The gorgeous art style includes gigantic bosses too!
All things considered, Moonlighter could be easily featured among the great indie titles of this year, alongside Celeste, Hollow Knight and Dead Cells. Unfortunately, though, some frequent little bugs take away part of its charm. There were times when the pointer disappeared on certain menus, and the prices weren’t saved on the list. Also, I had crashes at times, which resulted in some progress lost. Nevertheless, this wasn’t enough to dampen its superb presentation and addictive gameplay loop. If you like the premise, this is a no-brainer.
With its unique premise of being a brave shopkeeper, Moonlighter creates an entertaining loop divided between two genres. Despite some minor bugs, it is still one of the best indies available on Switch this year.