A superficial analysis of the 1st hour of Moonlighter + project on hold
This past weekend I decided that, more than anything else, I need to get my certification promise to my employer out of the way. Accordingly, I did absolutely no game design. I didn't want to risk the temptation to abandon my responsibility.
In lieu of design, I spent my study breaks playing videogames, watching TV, and generally flashing back to my college and high school days. In regards to videogames, my focus generally centered around 1 title.
Moonlighter is a top-down, 2D action game with rogue-light and RPG elements. You play a merchant and adventurer from a town that sprang up on the edge of a network of dungeons. The previous sentence is literally all you need to know about the game's backstory, yet you'll be treated to some of the most extensive and pointless backstory when you start the game.
1 half of Moonlighter is combat, and the other half is store management. I'm not a fan, I only stomached about an hour of the game, but I was drawn to it for how the combat resembles what I want for Project Splatter.
Movement in Moonlighter is 8-directional (up, down, left, right, up/left, up/right, down/left, down/right). You have a dodge, a primary attack, and a secondary attack. You can only dodge and attack in 4 directions (up, down, left, right). Dodging is tied to one button, and if you hold the dodge button and a movement direction at the same time you will dodge in the given direction. If you press the dodge button without holding a movement direction, you will dodge the default direction of backwards from your current facing direction. The dodge appears to allow for a slight tilt in movement when you hold, say, up and left, so dodging is almost 8 directional. Attacking, however, is purely 4-directional.
I found the navigation and combat system to be inspirational. It confirmed for me that the dodge system I want to make can be fun, that adding a frame or two of invincibility to a dodge feels good, and that adding a default dodge direction can help rather than hinder. Additionally, the 4-directional dodging and striking confirmed how weird 4-directional limitations feel in an 8-directional movement game. To be sure, the strikes in Moonlighter are either wide enough to hit foes at an angle or long enough to keep foes at a sizable distance. Still, the need to occasionally line up attacks was just enough extra effort to bother me a little.
The systems outside of Moonlighter's combat are the reason I lost interest in the game. There's the backpack, for starters, into which you will collect junk from around the dungeon and from defeating enemies. There's so much junk that your backpack will quickly fill, encouraging you to return to town and your shop. The backpack can be annoying with how quickly it fills, but this in itself is not a problem.
The system for returning to town in Moonlighter is exactly what I wouldn't want for this sort of game.
Firstly, you don't appear to have the ability to return to town whenever you want. The return system is represented in the UI with a mirror. The first time I used the mirror it flashed at me when I activated it. When I returned to the dungeon, the mirror continued to flash at me every time I entered a new room. However, I couldn't get the return system to work again until after I'd defeated the first game boss. This meant the UI was giving me confusing information by flashing at me, my backpack was filling up, and I had no way to leave the dungeon or otherwise do anything about it.
Secondly, there doesn't appear to be any way to return to the dungeon from where you left. If you leave the dungeon, you get to start over. I always find this sort of thing frustrating, but it's not a deal killer on its own.
Aside from the system for exiting dungeons, the town your store is in, as well as the store itself, also bothered me. The town in particular felt pointless as the NPCs provide nothing but flavor. Gameplay-impacting interactions (purchases from members of the town) seem to occur exclusively in a menu. The whole town could just be a menu!
Your store isn't much better. The system of putting the items you collect from the dungeons on display is cute, at first. You'll have 4 items out at a time, though you can have a stack of up to 10 of an item on 1 spot. When you open your shop, NPCs will come in and look at your junk. However, before you can sell your junk, you have to guess the price.
The main character, Will, has absolutely no idea how to estimate the cost for items. Yes, despite being a merchant. So, when you set items out for sale, you'll have to guess the initial price for every single item you find.
Price guessing isn't necessarily bad on its own. It can even be fun, when guessing the price is some of the most work you do. The problem is all the extra work Moonlighter tosses on top of the guesswork.
First, there's the busy work of waiting for NPCs to make up their minds and assisting with NPC sales. These portions felt like they needed an automation option, especially when I constantly had to run over to the item display area and swap or add items.
Second, there's the NPC emote system for feedback. If NPCs have a sad face when they look at an item you have on sale, it's priced too high. Neutral-happy, you've hit a good baseline. Super-happy with money for eyes, the price is too low. Angry... I have no clue, and it's not really explained anywhere I could see. Too many stacks of an item, maybe? The NPC is mad they can't pay? I've also had NPCs give me different feedback on the same item. Is feedback literally NPC-based, so you have to constantly guess?
Overall, I found the feedback system for price guessing to be incredibly unhelpful. The investment needed in figuring out what NPCs wanted made me want to experiment with single items at a time. Yet, you're limited by in-game daylight, you've only got so much storage space for your dungeon junk, and fighting in the dungeons was far more fun than the store headache. The problem is that you need to sell items to make any money.
Time and time again, I found myself wishing for a junk bin to toss items into. Dungeons do have something like a junk bin, but it's only in select areas.
Moonlighter isn't a bad game. It feels underworked in gameplay and overworked in plot, and bothers me in all the wrong ways.
I wanted to have gameplay from Moonlighter for the above blog post. Unfortunately, the sound is crap and I'm now out of time for screenshots.
I'm going to continue analyzing games for this blog until I've passed my certification. I hope to be done with the studying in 3 more weeks, leaving a 4th week for the actual test. The sooner I get this done, the sooner I can get back to design. Is what I keep telling myself.
Until next week.