Dreams are strange things. As a kid, you can dream to become anything – a great hero, explorer, or a scientist, with your own wild imagination as the limit to what you can achieve. And then comes the life, with its tremendous weight of duties and stifling obligations, landing swiftly on your gentle shoulders like an avalanche. Suddenly you’ve passed your prime and the dreams of your childhood and youth are just that – flimsy and insubstantial things you’ve never managed to realize and which will occasionally return to haunt you in your most vulnerable and melancholy hours.
In a way, that’s exactly the subject of Moonlighter, a fine new top-down RPG by indie Spanish developer Digital Sun Games which skillfully combines seemingly totally incompatible things such as rouge-lite and shop simulation elements. The game already appeared on a variety of platforms such as PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 – however, from November 5 the owners of Nintendo Switch are also able to partake in this great dungeon-raiding/shop keeping action. Young Will, the titular Moonlighter, is stuck in the rut of his daily obligations. He is a shopkeeper in the quaint village of Rynoka, having inherited his family’s business, but secretly his heart aches for something more. Much more. With proper hero duality, Will is a humble merchant by day and sits by the counter of his shop, selling things to his fellow villagers. At night, Will has a different kind of job altogether: he breaks into dungeons using mysterious gates near his village and retrieves artifacts and other goodies. However, a broom he uses to sweep his shop isn’t what you would call a proper weapon against the vicious creatures inhabiting these dungeons – a mistake which nearly cost Will his life. When village elder Zenon discovered him passed out he grudgingly gave him his first sword and shield, which will help Will to raise his sideline tomb-raiding hobby to a much higher level. A new merchant hero is born.
Just as it seems, Moonlighter is a game which consists of two clearly separate segments which are inextricably connected by the powerful ties of village economy and passion for adventure. As an adventurer (which is his job of choice and life’s vocation), Will sneaks out at night with his humongous knapsack on his back (for loading up on the spoils, you know), a weapon of his choice in hand, and prowls dangerous procedurally generated dungeons in search of rich loot strewn about. The developers state The Binding of Isaac, Recettear, Rogue Legacy and The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap as their primary sources of inspiration, and it shows, especially as far the gameplay, combat mechanics and the dungeon design is concerned. Will may have stared his adventuring career with the Zenon’s rusty sword and shield, but he’ll be able to wield all kinds of weapons from great swords, through spears to bow and arrows, which will directly influence your combat technique and style. Since you can also swap two different weapon combinations during the battle, which additionally extends your fighting spectrum. The combat mechanics itself is quite simplistic. You have two types of attack: a basic main attack and the more powerful secondary one. Add to it a dodge movement, which also automatically serves as jump across various cracks and holes you’ll come across.
However, although seemingly much duller and mundane, your day job isn’t less fascinating. You’ll interact with your customers, set the prices and sell the loot you collected during your nightly raids on dungeons. This day job isn’t here just for dramatic contrast – if you want to succeed and get better in your tomb-raiding occupation, you’ll have to be more successful as a merchant. That means you’ll have to expand your business, deal with thieves, pay attention to the needs of your customers, set prices accordingly and do everything else that’s in the shopkeeper’s job description. With your business flourishing, you’ll be able to get the better equipment for yourself, thus becoming more successful at adventuring and obtain more loot, which will boost your shop’s wares, attract more customers and get better equipment…You get the picture, it’s a virtuous cycle and you better be good at both occupations if you want to prosper.
Moonlighter isn’t just a game with an original and interesting concept, it’s also a joy to look at. The visuals are in pixelated retro style and, although it certainly owes much to the Zelda and other influences we mentioned, the main source of inspiration seems to be works of Studio Ghibli. The graphics possess a cute cartoonish refinement with more than a touch of anime influences, paired with excellent animations and spellbinding music which together creates a truly exceptional and wonderful atmosphere. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your Nintendo Switch, turn on Moonlighter and turn all your dreams into reality. You owe it to yourself.