Moonlighter Review: Hack-n-Sell
Kalvin Martinez / Nov 6th, 2018 No Comments
Moonlighter successfully makes you go “Huh?”
It centers around Will, a young merchant who explores the dungeons near his town — we’ve all heard that one before. But what makes Moonlighter unique is that what Will finds in the dungeons he sells in his own shop.
If that doesn’t capture your intrigue, maybe slick pixel graphics, satisfying hack-n-slash combat and a ton of replay value will.
Suddenly, mazes filled with marvelous treasure and dangerous creatures appeared in the land. The people called them Dungeons, a place where an aspiring explorer could try their hand at wealth and glory. With so many trying to conquer these dungeons, a village formed nearby.
Rynoka became a town where two groups flourished: merchants and heroes. Since the dungeons change every time someone enters, they were deemed too dangerous for either to explore and soon were closed to prevent others from throwing their lives away.
The village began to flounder without the infusion of riches from the dungeon. This was especially true for Will, the owner of the Moonlighter. He was expected to continue the legacy of his grandfather and keep up the reputation of the oldest shop in town.
Yet, he wasn’t content with simply being a merchant, even if it was the best one around. His dreams were much larger. A fascination with the dungeons meant he dreamed of opening the Fifth Door to the mysterious Dungeon. It is no small task as he’ll have to brave the guardians of the other four dungeons to get closer to his goal.
The story centers around two elements: intrigue and desire. There is a huge mystery at the center of the dungeons, from their shifting makeup to the guardians at the heart of each one. But the most important mystery is what is behind that Fifth Door. This intrigue keeps you pushing forward and eager, like Will himself, to find out what awaits in each dungeon. Every dungeon serves as a puzzle piece that fits into the truth of their purpose.
Will’s dream of opening the Fifth Door despite everyone telling him it is crazy is one hell of a motivation. The reluctance that he feels toward running the shop is palpable. In many ways, him selling what he finds in the dungeons and improving the Moonlighter and the town are a means to an end. The fact that it holds up his family’s legacy is a happy accident. Will is using it to earn the money to fuel his true obsession.
Moonlighter doesn’t feature a verbose narrative, but it elegantly provides a framework and motivation for Will that makes needless expansion unnecessary. The player knows what Will wants and understands that digging into the game’s deep gameplay helps Will achieve that goal. There is never confusion about the why, so the what becomes that much more meaningful. Every sale, every upgrade, every purchase, every time you enter the dungeon, it is for a purpose.
Dungeon crawling isn’t a new concept. It’s a foundational video game genre, and the hack-n-slash aspects of the gameplay tap into what makes video games so satisfying to play. The roguelite genre is also a well-worn concept. There have been many dungeon crawlers that use the procedural and run-like nature to add a heightened sense of danger and unpredictability to gameplay. Neither is what makes Moonlighter unique or novel.
What makes Moonlighter such an electric experience and what elevates both concepts is its merchant angle. Moonlighter is all about how the spoils Will finds in a dungeon can help him make money and service the town of Rynoka, even if he is more interested in the dungeons themselves. Regardless of what Will wants, the ultimate goal is to build the Moonlighter into a world-class business.
Selling items isn’t just for show. You choose what to sell, when to sell it and set the prices. Supply and demand plays an important factor in how well an item will sell and how much patrons are willing to pay for it. If you flood the market with an item, interest goes down and people will be unlikely to buy it or unwilling to pay its actual value. Conversely, like in actual business, the rarer an item is, the more people will be willing to pay. However, value is a huge determining factor and no amount of demand can get people to pay too much more than something is worth.
Running a successful business is more than simply having inventory. To make Moonlighter a shop your grandfather would be proud of, you have to invest in renovations. The look of your shop is equally as important as what you put on the shelves. There are a ton of upgrades you can invest in, including better cash registers and an attractive sales display. All of these little changes help improve your revenue.
However, the most important investment is upgrading the building. When you first begin your journey, the Moonlighter is a small shop with a tiny amount of shelf space. It’s perfect for the modest business you’re running in the ghost town. As you discover more dungeons and you find yourself with a growing inventory, you will need more shelf space.
By upgrading the interior of the Moonlighter (like Doctor Who’s Police Box, the outside stays the same, but inside grows much bigger), you’re not only able to add additional shelf space, but you can also start jazzing up the place with decorations. Making the shop more appealing aesthetically to customers is a great way to keep them browsing. Decorations also provide bonuses, like how long customers will be willing to wait in line and detracting thieves. Investing in the Moonlighter is the best way to keep that cash flowing into your coffers.
While the merchant aspect of Moonlighter is such a compelling mechanic, it can’t exist on its own. There is a symbiosis deeply ingrained into the game between dungeon crawling and selling because you are selling the items you find inside dungeons. If you don’t explore dungeons, you won’t be able to sell anything.
By extension, the dungeons only get harder, meaning you’ll need better equipment. The only way to earn the dosh to purchase those upgrades is by successfully running your store. On the other side of that is to improve Rynoka and run a more lucrative shop, you need to open up the other dungeons. The two aspects feed into each other in a wonderful way. No one aspect is more important than the other. There is a huge need for balance.
Splitting up your time between running the shop and exploring dungeons is vital to achieving Will’s dream of opening that Fifth Door. Neglecting either will have you spinning your wheels. In Moonlighter, you need to be both Link and the Happy Mask Salesman.
Moonlighter has been a long time coming for the Switch, but it is a perfect fit for the system. The nature of runs in the game works extremely well with the Switch’s portability. Working toward opening that Fifth Door is now even easier because you can do it anywhere without the limitations of a TV.
If you been waiting to try out Moonlighter, now is the perfect opportunity to experience one hell of a game.
Moonlighter was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.
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