Some say older games are better; I’m not sure I agree. I remember being repeatedly crushed by games like Ninja Gaiden — where the developers forgot they’d already made their money and didn’t need to bully players for more quarters. Or Sierra Adventure games, where you could make the game unwinnable 5 minutes in and not know for another 20.
Thankfully, today’s title doesn’t lean on those particular tropes, and it doesn’t need to. Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a retro-style platforming game brought to us by JoyMasher and The Arcade Crew. Imagine Shinobi fused with Mega Man.
Old-School Gameplay and Graphics
Moonrider is also the name of the main character. He’s a cybernetic supersoldier who turns on the oppressive regime that created him. The few cutscenes are good, and I like the banter with bosses before their battles begin. The story is brief and uncomplicated. I wish there were a little more of it myself.
The game consists of 8 stages full of basic enemies, platforming challenges, and a couple of bosses. Like a Megaman game, most stages can be played in any order. Moonrider is gunning for the remaining Guardians, and each one felled grants a new special attack. Unlike Megaman, Moonrider is a firm believer in solving his problems at close range. The basic slashes are fast and deflect many projectiles. Players even get a diving kick that adds to their movement abilities.
Beautiful might be the wrong word for the environments in a dystopian cyber-Japan. They’re well-crafted in both looks and level design, featuring varied sights and obstacles. Sometimes they throw in new mechanics like the “climb or die” sequence in the Fallen City.
The stages are never long enough to become a slog, even the inevitable underwater bits. If players struggle with any given section, they can farm other stages for extra lives. Also, there’s a CRT Effect setting. I turned it on immediately and never looked back.
The music is the same style mishmash as the graphics, and I love the result. Fallen City Act II is getting added to my personal playlist, but there are plenty of other good tracks. Most are dark and brooding or action-packed, but it fits the tone of the game. I cannot overstate the role it plays in immersing players in Moonrider’s world.
The sound effects are great too. They work with the graphics to give important feedback like “an attack is coming” or “your shots are bouncing off.” This lets the devs introduce new attacks and enemies without pausing the game to explain everything. Some of the games that Moonrider mimics were not as good about this.
My favorite part of the game is the Power Modules. These are hidden in the stages and can be equipped for bonus effects. They let players modify their experience in meaningful ways. Do you struggle with the platforming sections? Double-jump is here. Health pick-ups not enough to get you to the next encounter? Bloodlust has you covered.
You can use the strongest pickups to lower the difficulty of trouble spots, and you can also go in the other direction and die on any hit. Moonrider offers an Armor chip after your first game-over, but like the rest of the Modules, it’s optional. The game has much more variety thanks to this system; all it takes is a little snooping during the stages. That or running the Detective Chip.
There were a few moments where I had to step away and gather my wits before trying again. Beyond those the difficulty is approachable, and the Modules help. Half my problem was focusing on damaging the bosses over dodging their attacks. You would think I’d know better after Ghost Song.
There is a scoring system that gives players a rating for each stage. It goes off time spent and points earned for beating enemies; it’s a little weird that the points don’t have a display during the stages themselves. I got several E ranks on my first attempt, but revisits went more smoothly.
No Rust Spots, but Perhaps Some Tarnish
I only have 2 complaints. First, time spent on the pause screen counts against a stage’s final score. If you get pulled away from an S-rank run mid-mission, you may as well restart. Not a big deal, but it feels like an oversight. A game shouldn’t punish a player for having a life, and otherwise, Moonrider doesn’t.
The other matter is the game being a little short. It took me about 5 hours to clear all stages and get all the Power Modules. That said, Moonrider is easy to pick up and play, and the Scoring System and Power Modules keep the gameplay fresh. This is a title players can come back to days or weeks later without story confusion or forgetting mechanics. I think the replay value ultimately trumps the shorter length.
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a wonderful nostalgia trip. It brings back an era of simpler but still engaging titles. Players don’t need a 50-hour time sink and cutting-edge graphics to have a good time, and there will always be games like Moonrider to prove that.
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider Review
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a wonderful nostalgia trip. It sands down the rough edges of the era it imitates, and the final product exceeds its inspirations. It’s an adventure I’d recommend to anyone who misses that time or never had it in the first place.
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is on Steam.
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Reviewed on PC with Review Copy provided.