If You Only Play One Indie Game This Year, Make it Moonlighter

Moonlighter 5-min

From Digital Sun, Moonlighter released on PC and consoles back in May. It’s been sat on my Xbox One’s hard drive since then. I didn’t know much about the game, and without hearing much noise on social media, I’ve ignored it for over a month.

I finally decided to load it up at the weekend, and I’m devastated I didn’t try it sooner. Moonlighter is magical.

Moonlighter puts you in the pixelated shoes of Will, an adventurer at heart who’s just inherited his grandfather’s item shop – the titular Moonlighter – in the small, sleepy village of Rynoka. Close to Rynoka is a mysterious set of gates leading to strange worlds, most of which have been closed off; they’re too dangerous for townsfolk to explore! But as a shopkeeper, Will must at least explore one of the worlds; dangerous or not, he needs to find items to sell in Moonlighter to keep his grandfather’s business alive.

As he begins wandering through the dungeon-like worlds, however, he realises that there’s much more than meets the eye. Messages from past warriors reveal secrets, and by working his way through them, Will can unlock further gates that allow him to solve an age-old mystery. A long and fraught path awaits him, and regardless of the advice of the townsfolk, he’s going to make his way through each of those gates.

But not before getting some great loot to sell in his shop, of course.

Two halves make a whole

Moonlighter is very much a game of two halves: it’s an action RPG, but it’s also a shop simulator. The two sides of the game work together in harmony, and balancing the two is the key to success. Every item Will finds in his travels has some kind of value – some obviously worth much more than others – but some are also useful in crafting new weapons and armour.

This is an RPG after all, so kitting Will out with the best possible gear is an important part of succeeding. Progressing through Moonlighter‘s four worlds is dependent on making money in your shop, but also on crafting better and stronger equipment.

Keeping shop

If you’re here for an action RPG, the shopkeeping side of the game might sound boring in comparison. But it’s far from it. Both halves are equally engaging and exciting. Running your shop in Moonlighter means laying out your items and setting a price for them. Initially, you have no indication of an item’s worth. It’s a bit of a guessing game; as customers pour in, their reactions to your prices will let you know if they’re too high or too low. Getting them just right, and getting a steady stream of satisfied customers, is what you want to aim for. Or you could purposefully inflate your prices just enough; so customers will still buy them, but they won’t be too happy about it. It’s a game of trial and error, adjusting prices to meet demand, and focusing on stocking the items that sell well and for a hefty sum.

There are also pesky thieves – hooded rogues and snotty-nosed little kids – who will wander in from time to time, eager to get their sticky fingers on your goods. You’ll have to pay close attention to who walks through your door. Should a thief grab an item, it’s up to you to wrestle it out of their hand before they leave the shop. All in a day’s work.

It’s dangerous to go alone

Once your shop is closed for the day, it’s time for your adventure to begin. The worlds of Moonlighter are breathtaking. Pixel art they may be, but every corner of Rynoka and the mysterious dungeons is packed full with gorgeous details. Enemies are varied and interesting, and the four differently-themed worlds are equally beautiful. There’s a distinct old-school Zelda vibe at play in both how the game looks and feels.

Exploring the dungeons of Moonlighter comes with some roguelite elements, too. Each of the four gates leads to a world made of three levels. Progressing to a new level increases the difficulty a little, but it means you’re more likely to find rarer and more valuable items. Should you die while you’re exploring, you’ll lose any items you had in your backpack, and you’ll have to start back from the beginning. However, thanks to Will’s handy tools, he can safely leave the dungeons at any point. Later, he can also generate a warp point that will let him safely return to any place in the dungeon without having to start from the beginning again. It’s invaluable when you have limited space in your inventory.

Perfect simplicity

Moonlighter‘s gameplay loop is simple, and perhaps it could be described as repetitive, but it has been formulated to near perfection. Exploring the dungeons is reminiscent of Binding of Isaac; every new room holds potential treasures and enemies to defeat. Regardless of how far you get, you’re immediately driven to pick yourself up and try again. Saving up gold and farming the items you need to craft better equipment means Will gets continually stronger – and little by little, those later dungeons start to get easier.

Sometimes simplicity is best, and Moonlighter absolutely proves that. Its combination of two tried and tested genres into one finely-tuned complete package is nothing short of wonderful. I’m currently on the second of four worlds, and I’m itching to get back to that cathartic and enchanting loop of killing enemies, finding loot, and selling it on.

Moonlighter is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.