This is a thing I kickstarted. You have been warned.
Moon Hunters is a game about stories…at least, that’s what the developers told me a couple of years ago when I saw them at PAX. It’s about the actions of heroes and how they are immortalized through the people they help (or harm). The game promises to let the players create their own legends except it’s missing out on one key part: the legend. Moon Hunters feels like 3/4s of a game with the payoff missing.
The most standout feature of the game is the aesthetic. Moon Hunters chooses a pixel based art style with fairly traditional, but varied, landscapes. Forests are lush and green, deserts are brown and barren, and swamps have ponds showing the ripple of a falling rain drop. Characters also animate smoothly and blend well with the environment reflecting a pleasant, unified style. The music takes an appropriately reverential tone with plenty of otherworldly singing suited for a campfire. On the whole, this visual and audible approach has been done before, but it’s also done well here. The player will enjoy the little touches, even if the world doesn’t sweep them away.
Combat is similarly a step up from the norm, but not awe inspiring. The player picks from one of four characters (local coop for up to four players) with unique skills. They each have a main attack, an area of effect attack, and a speed move which the player uses on a top down map with a combat style akin to a twin stick shooter. Not all the characters are sufficiently powerful (the range fighters suffer) which frustratingly extends some fights far beyond the point of fun. Stat boosts from story vignettes scale characters well, but the opening fights can be a real slog. Players can also purchase upgrades from merchants, though this often emphasizes the problems with the weaker characters. Weak characters take longer to kill enemies which slows the rate of currency accumulation and thus the ability to upgrade out of peon status. Still, the character powers are unique and combat requires tactics to perform well in. There’s nothing special here, but enough is done right to get the requisite amount of fun.
The main selling point, the player made stories, is the weakest element. The premise is that the player is one of several heroes of a moon worshiping village when the sun god kills the moon. The player is then charged with reviving the moon goddess and defeating the sun god’s army. The story after the setup is filled in with micro vignettes (they last about a minute at most) that confer or reflect traits. These traits help establish the ending of the player’s story such as the “proud” trait inspiring other chieftains with the player’s confidence. It’s at this point where Moon Hunters flaws are most evident. The story wants the player to feel like they’re building a unique hero, but the procedural approach means that the trait ending stories feel disjointed. The ending is several little blurbs of text pulled when a player has a certain trait. It doesn’t feel cohesive or like an adequate payoff for the trouble. Even worse, the end never shows the effect of the player’s actions making the idea of “crafting a story” feel hollow. The player never sees the fruits of their labors, so the repeated playthroughs that the game encourages will allows fall flat at the end.
Moon Hunters is almost a solid little game executed well. Nothing truly excels, but enough works that the game is largely an enjoyable package. It’s a shame that developer Kitfox couldn’t stick the landing. Buy on sale if the idea sounds interesting.