We’ve come a long way when it comes to technology. Specifically, in-game graphics. Although new consoles offer immersive storytelling and gameplay with the latest realistic graphics, many still ache for a simple and sentimental art style, gameplay, and music.
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is an amalgamation of every perfect 90’s side-scrolling action platform game. The developers JoyMasher have a true love for retro games while still adding a bit of fast-paced action that was more difficult to pull off back in the day.
Copy and Paste
Every action platformer in the 90s is going to have the most generic and cliché story ever told. Moonrider is no different. I honestly paid no mind to the dialogue once the premise was set. You’re a super soldier created by a government to take over the country. Unfortunately for them, you decide to seek vengeance instead and destroy the other corrupt soldiers and their respective facilities.
I just button-mashed the A button to continue on with the action after I realized how generic the story beats were. You’re not missing a thing with the story. You only lose out on precious sword-swiping time, especially for those speed runners.
Any boss can be selected in any order to defeat. Each level is also a theme more focused on the bosses’ powers à la Mega Man. Level designs are creative and can be difficult, especially for speed runners. That’s part of its charm.
There’s the usual common lava level, high flying platform level, water level, and even a bike riding section in one level. Although generic, they are fun to go through with different enemies to deal with. Some are more difficult than others, making the difficulty curve fluctuate dramatically between levels.
There are secret power-ups in each level that can modify your character with special abilities. For example:
Bloodlust: Killing enemies will restore HP
Armor: Moonrider takes less damage, but the maximum stage rank is B.
MP Regen: Restores a small amount of MP every few seconds
Long Sword: Increases the attack range.
Glass Cannon: Moonrider dies in one hit. (meant to be “Hard mode”)
Moonrider has a sword for slashing attacks and one special weapon button. That can be used to assign a power that was acquired by a defeated boss, again à la Mega Man. I found myself usually sticking with the dashing power along with the armor mod and the MP regen mod. However, there are enough mods to play around a bit with different play styles.
There aren’t any shooting weapons aside from a few special power moves that use up your MP. This is where the Ninja Gaiden-style jumping and attacking come in. If you sprint while attacking, Moonrider does extra damage to enemies, but it can leave you open if you’re not ready for what’s approaching. Timing and accuracy are important. Just running and slashing will not get you by easily. It was fun memorizing levels and enemy patterns when I died, giving me a sense of skill development once I got to the end-level boss.
Sadly, I can honestly say the bosses don’t prove much of a challenge. They have 2 health bars but can be reduced rather quickly. I feel the levels and sub-bosses are more difficult than the main challengers.
Platforming needs to be precise while simultaneously dodging, wall-jumping, or attacking any oncoming enemies. I’m sure what helped the most with these boss battles were my armor mod and MP regen since I spammed my special dash attack often, to dodge and damage.
I really enjoyed this 2-4 hour romp in the 16-bit era. The difficulty is welcomed and doesn’t seem impossible to master. My one and the only problem with the game is that occasionally I would find my character getting stuck and not moving at all when I do jump attacks while getting hit by an enemy. Kind of like my armor locked or something. It didn’t happen to the point the game is unplayable. Within the 4 hours that I beat the game, it only happened to me about 3 times.
Moonrider combines the greatest aspects of old-school gaming while still maintaining smooth action, challenging levels, enjoyable music, and exciting level design. JoyMasher has said they have kept speed runners in mind meaning that you are ranked by health, timely completion, and more in every level. Although that’s not my cup of tea, I’m sure those speed runners will get a kick out of getting better rankings and finishing in possibly less than an hour.
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider will be out for Steam, Playstation, Nintendo Switch, and Amazon Luna (in select territories) on January 12th, 2023. For $16.99, this is a steal.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider for PC provided by JoyMasher and The Arcade Crew.