Moonlighter Review

Developer: Digital Sun

Publisher: 11 Bit Studios

Rogue-lites have very special place in my heart. I love the quick action, immense challenge, and inevitable death. In the end it was met with satisfying reward. But what I remember the most is the quick runs and intense action. In Moonlighter, however, the game decides to take a slightly slower pace and adds an additional layer of gameplay. Because in addition to the dungeon crawling you’ll be managing your own item shop as you search for items on your dungeon runs. All which is beautifully rendered in by some of the best pixel art I’ve ever seen.

moonlighter shopIn Moonlighter, you take the role of a shopkeeper named Will. At night Will moonlights (get it?) as dungeon explorer. He explores these dungeons to collect resources to sell, as well as to create new items to also sell. Will is seeking to get into the fifth dungeon which appears to be important due to how elaborate and big the door is. Of course, Will needs to make his way in there. It isn’t the most exciting or deep storytelling, but it still keeps you engaged.

Moonlighter’s gameplay loop consists of the two different parts of Will’s life: running the shop during the day and dungeon crawling/adventuring at night. You can also adventure during the day, but it means no shop time, which means no money. Also, loot drops aren’t quite as good during the day.

Some items are cursed and may destroy items within a specific direction of an item in your back pack. This creates an additional challenge in managing inventory and getting items back from the dungeon to your shop. It makes for some fun puzzle solving while in dungeons, but it can also unnecessarily slow the game down. For those players who don’t have the patience or attention span for all of this, the gameplay loop can get very tedious.

moonlighter combatMoonlighter’s combat is simple. You have a standard three swing combo no matter the weapon. But, there are plenty of weapons you can either pick up or create to offer a little more variety to the combat. It does take some time to build up the materials to build new weapons. Once again for people who may find this kind of collecting grind very tedious may not have the patience for it.

The selling and shop running in the game are fleshed out and very engaging. Materials you gather in dungeons can be sold in your shop and can be used to create items that you can also sell. Say you have several bits of iron you collected from a dungeon crawl. You can take those to the town blacksmith and have them forged together to create a sword you sell in your shop or use for yourself.

moonlighter inside shopNow you may think you’re all set and you’re a shop running pro, right? Well, Moonlighter has mechanic that makes things a little difficult for your life as a shopkeeper. The game has a working economy in which the more frequently you sell an item its value begins to depreciate. So that iron you were making a bank can soon flood the market and customers won’t be willing to buy. Or at the least not buy it at the price you’re selling it for. This adds a nice layer of challenge and variety to selling the materials instead of repetitively selling the same items.

Good, catchy music. Cute shop music and intense, dramatic dungeon music. No matter which part of Moonlighter you’re involved in the music is fitting for the setting and immerses you in the game. Monster noises and sounds are nicely varied. Weapon swings have the proper sounds that give them weight and swinging power.

moonlighter inventory screenMoonlighter manages to accomplish a lot of interesting things with its mixture of mechanics as much as it maintains itself as a rogue-lite. But it will still come down to the pacing of the game that may prevent some from playing. I love it for that fact, though. It may not be a crazy round after round, constant action rogue-lite, but those restful moments in such a beautifully rendered game gives Moonlighter its own unique personality. And, one that players who enjoy this kind of pacing will thoroughly enjoy.

Overdue Review: Hyper Light Drifter

Welcome to the Stick And The Button’s first Overdue Review where I play and review a game from my back log or something I missed that came out ages ago. First up is the intriguing and beautiful Hyper Light Drifter.

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There was a lot buzz around Hyper Light Drifter before it came out. The art style and story gathered a lot of attention from many players, but when it came out it was met with very mixed receptions. The game’s detractors took issue with the game being locked at 30 FPS creating a slow and sluggish experience which made the games combat feel unresponsive. Now, this left me kind of unsure about checking out the game despite it being the type of game I would enjoy. But, after snagging the game on sale I finally decided to give it a shot and come to my own conclusion.

You take the role of a mysterious, um, knight I guess would be what best describe the character. The intense cutscene at the beginning implies a terrible catastrophe has befallen the world and your character may be the cause of it all. He also appears to be ill with some sort of disease. Other than those tidbits of story telling the rest of the story is fairly vague. There is no dialogue to the point where when you “speak” to other characters their speech bubbles are filled with pictures to tell a story. None of it is explicit and it’s up to you to figure.

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I love this sort of mysterious story telling in games where you must figure out the story with the visual context clues to figure out. It’s why I love the Soulsbourne series so much, but Hyper Light Drifter takes it to a different level with no dialogue or text whatsoever. I know there are plenty of people out there who also hate this type of story telling and if you’re in that camp you might find the vagueness incredibly grating.

Hyper Light Drifter takes a lot of its mechanics from several ARPGs. Combat is a mix of Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls. You combo together sword swings, dodge enemy attack, and even get a gun whose use is very reminiscent to Furi’s gun. In other words you must hold down the R2 button to aim and press a separate button to fire your gun. Dodging doesn’t provide i-frames like Dark Souls does

Along with similar ARPG combat mechanics the UI will also be familiar to many players. Your health bar is divided into five squares similar to The Legend of Zelda heart health meter. However, if you get hit in Hyper Light Drifter you’re going to be losing the whole square of health. No halves or quarters damage losses, you just lose the whole thing.

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Hands down the art and pixel graphic design in Hyper Light Drifter is what I love the most. The beginning opening cinematic is striking with the main character appearing as we also witness whatever catastrophe has befallen this world. The games use of a pastel palette of colors meld together to create some very eye-catching visuals. A lot of pinks, teals and purples are used to make some very dramatic visuals. There are still some grays, greens, and other standard color palettes to flesh out both the natural and civilized areas.

Hyper Light Drifter also knows how to establish a great sense of scale in the game. Right after you make your way through the tutorial area you come out to clearing and a cliff with a city off in the distance. Some who have played the game will already know the area, but for those who haven’t played the game, yet, hopefully you’ll be just as awe struck as I was. It filled me with a desire to explore this world. And it is very much worth it to explore.

The second moment this feeling struck was when I first received the world map. As soon as I opened it I was taken a back not only by the size of each of the areas, but also by the habitats each of the four areas represented. A massive desert, a tangled and beautiful forest, a tranquil, yet terrifying, temple surrounded by water, and a tall mountain peak can all be fully explored. There is a lot to explore and all of it is very rewarding.

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Now this last part of the visuals isn’t entirely relevant to Hyper Light Drifter’s visuals. This is regarding the game’s 30 fps framerate when it first launched, which many players (not all) felt it was slow and sluggish, making the games combat unresponsive at times. Heart Machine has since updated the game to 60 fps while still offering a 30 fps option. Seeing as this is an Overdue Review I wanted to see how the game ran at 30. And, well…the game becomes incredibly unresponsive and slow. I typically never have too much of an issue with 30 fps in some games, but in Hyper Light Drifter it felt like moving and fighting through molasses. Thank god Heart Machine updated it and runs smooth now.

After hearing mixed things about Hyper Light Drifter (and that super dope pixel art) I finally decided to play it. Though I am playing the fully optimized version, being able to go back to playing at 30fps kind of shows the initial problems of the game. But, it now runs at 60fps and this game is beautiful, intriguing and has great and familiar gameplay especially as a Zelda fan. I haven’t been this enthralled and filled with wander-lust in game in a long time. With the additional polish they have added to this game, it is wonderful and everything I want in my ARPGs.

Hob Review

Forest_1AHob first grabbed my attention when I saw the developers behind it was Runic Games. I loved their Torchlight series because I’m a big fan of Diablo and really any game involving looting and action rpg mechanics. But, Hob took a page out of another beloved action rpg: The Legend of Zelda. The game has lock-on combat mechanics, collectible upgrades, and plenty of tiny dungeons dotted throughout the world. But these dungeons house immense puzzles and these complex, yet intuitive puzzles is where Hob shines. It is also, sadly, the company’s final game, before shutting down late last year.

You play as a mysterious (but, cute) figure in a world falling apart due to a strange infection. Through a series of puzzles  Usual, but still engaging action rpg combat with deep and highly layered puzzles and a nice dash of semi worthwhile exploration to boot. There are collectibles, upgrades, and abilities available, so you can improve the main character and their tools.

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The puzzles in Hob are outstanding and definitely the highlight among the game’s  other mechanics. The entire game world itself seems like one giant puzzle and most importantly they are very well designed and intuitive. There is that perfect level of challenge where you may find yourself stumped, but consistent puzzle mechanics help move you in the direction of the solution.

It isn’t always perfect in directing you to the next part of the puzzle as I spent a decent amount of time in one dungeon trying to find my way to the next part of a the puzzle. The main problem was similarity in room structure. It looked very much the same as a previous room earlier in the dungeon. So, when the game was trying to point me in the direction of the exit I ignored the exit, got lost, ended up stumped until I returned to the room. I headed through the

Combat mechanics are what you would expect from an action RPG. You can string together combos to do damage, lock-on target enemies to tactically fight them, and dodging and blocking abilities to defend yourself.

The only unique aspect is the use of a glove you receive at the beginning of the game. This can be used in combat as your shield and a knock back tool. The main use of the gauntlet is to help in solving the games numerous puzzles. You can also use it to navigate by knocking out walls and teleporting through blue glowing platforms. Said orbs are also puzzles themselves.

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You’re provided with standard health and mana bars both of which can be permanently improved with items. Health is upgraded with red blocks you find tulip bulb looking plants you pry open. Collecting two blocks will complete a new health bar, a la Zelda just with fewer pick ups to complete bars. Mana bar improvements look like a gear and require about five of them to increase your max bar.

Hob uses vague story-telling and in game mechanics to tell the story. All I can gather thus far about the games story is it seems you are some sort of guardian/custodian of this lush and slightly mechanical world. Your good robot friend summons you from your enclosed chamber. Why you start here is a mystery. Some strange corruption marked with thorny vines and purple goop, is spreading and you are tasked with stopping its spread.

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The visuals in Hob are executed in a beautiful cel-shading art style and Runic games are able to use it to express it in bright colors and dead dull colors effectively. The world is a perfect mix of lush and green nature and grey, metallic machinery. Fluorescent blue light shine in the underground dungeons along with gorgeous rock formations. Even corrupted areas fit in perfectly. Dried out, yellow grass and thick overgrown thorny vines merge together seamlessly with the games brighter and healthier environments making the corrupted areas striking when they make an appearance.

I truly was not expecting to enjoy Hob as much as I did. The puzzles in Hob are not only enjoyable in a game, but also challenging and satisfying to solve. Making the gorgeous, cel-shaded world one big puzzle is creative and effective and watching all the pieces fall into place is very gratifying. While its other action RPG mechanics are nothing outstanding, they are still implemented well. This is an excellent final game for Runic Games and showcases their amazing ability to make great ARPGs,

Pyre Review

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blog.us.playstation.com

Platforms: PC, PS4

Price: $19.99

My first experience with a SuperGiant game was Bastion. While the game had stunning visuals and great music, the games mechanics were not particularly memorable. They weren’t terrible, it didn’t really do anything new compared to most action RPGs. Transistor on the other hand took its combat mechanic in an interesting direction. Players were able to pause time and set up a series of actions to execute. With their latest game Pyre, SuperGiant has implemented some of their riskiest and unique mechanics, in both gameplay and story, and they executed it impressively. Also, it’s still gorgeous as hell and Darren Korb’s music will stick with you after you’ve finished the game.

Pyre brings the company’s beautiful art style and excellent music talent back with an RPG game whose main gameplay combat is essentially 3 on 3 fantasy basketball. You take the role as a fellow exile whose crime was knowing how to read. Literacy is outlawed in this world and you’ve been cast out into the Downside, a wasteland of sort with a few areas that still have some hints of life to them.

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In typical SuperGiant fashion the games aesthetic is vibrant and colorful. The character animations are incredibly fluid. The detail put into the worlds environments make them all gorgeous and memorable. Plains are lively with bright colors and verdant green fields and a deadly lava ridden area is flows with orange glowing lava and embers. Everything in this game is beautifully rendered and created.

SuperGiant has decided to move towards more of a text based narrative. There is still a narrator, but they only appear when a rite takes place. Players can hover their cursor over certain words of the text to gain additional lore on places and characters. I personally enjoyed this, but fans of Bastion and Transistor with their excellent narrators, may not enjoy how wordy the game can be. And it is a lot. Between rites are only conversations either through the natural progression of the story or side conversations with the characters you have in the wagon.

Also, be prepared for a lot of feels from this game, even before you reach the end.

This is the strongest (and best) aspect of the game. Taking part in the rites is like playing a 3 on 3 fantasy sports game. As the rite begins a magical orb slams into the center of the arena. The player must grab the magical orb in the middle of the arena and transport or throw it into your opponent’s pyre until it is extinguished. The pyre’s strength is represented by a counter inside the pyre.

But it’s the different player types who offer the real depth to the base mechanics. Every type has an aura surrounding them. The size of the aura varies in size depending on the class you’re playing. The giant daemon’s for example is massive, while the cur’s is fairly small.

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Each class can also launch their aura forward to attack enemies. Well, not all of them are launched forward, but the idea is still to obliterate your opponent, temporarily removing a player from the rite. This also occurs when a player jumps into the pyre to score.

You can improve each players stats and abilities as they level as well as improve said abilities with talismans you can pick up as you explore the world or purchased with gold from the Slugmarket. This lovely little market and its strange owner will offer talismans and consumables before rites.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Pyre. The game’s vibrant art makes the world worthy of exploring and enjoying. And in typical Supergiant fashion the music is incredible and sticks with you even after you put the game down (I highly recommend buying the soundtrack. It’s amazing in its own right.) I know some may be bothered by the absence of a constant narrator, but I enjoyed the text based narrative and found it just as engaging. If you’ve been a long-time fan of Supergiant you’ll love Pyre and should experience this beautiful game.