Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider Review

Developer: JoyMasher
Publisher: The Arcade Crew
Platforms: NS, PS4, PS5, PC
Price: $16.99
Version Played: PC

Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is the new game from JoyMasher, the developer of Odallus, Oniken, and one of my favorite games of 2019, Blazing Chrome. I saw a lot of names in the credits, but as I understand it, one person does most of the work on JoyMasher's games, and that's Danilo Dias, so keep that in mind. Moonrider continues JoyMasher's legacy of retro 2D action with an interesting mix of Shinobi III and Mega Man X.

The Shinobi III part comes with Moonrider's controls. Moonrider's main weapon is a sword and not kunai, but he definitely has Joe Musashi's moves. He's got the dash, running slash, wall jump, rope climbing, and dive kick. He even bounces off enemies after dive kicking their heads, just like in Shinobi III. Moonrider's other sword attacks are like a mix of Zero and Strider's. You have a 3 slash combo, you can walk while slashing, they have a wide arc, long reach, and their animations leave a trail of neon light behind, just like Capcom's Ninjas. You can also deflect many enemy projectiles by slashing them. Moonrider's controls feel a bit tighter than those classics, though. This game feels fast and responsive, and the hits feel like they have more impact, just like you'd expect from a game made by someone who has studied classic Ninja games.
The structure of Moonrider is all Mega Man X. You start out in an intro level, you choose the order you play the rest of the levels in, and you can replay any level to look for hidden items with upgrades acquired in other levels. There's also a multi-part final level that unlocks after you beat all the robot masters. So, yeah, big Mega Man X vibes. You can equip 2 of these upgrades at a time to get abilities like a double jump, HP regen, and an ability that marks where the hidden items are in a level. You also get new special weapons after defeating the bosses, just like in Mega Man. I definitely found some of those weapons very useful against other bosses, but I'm not sure if there's some kind of Mega Man-like boss order you can follow. I guess the community will come up with one later.
There's also a couple of Hang-On-like motorcycle sections in the game. Well, Hang-On with a gun, so maybe it's more like Space Harrier on a bike. Anyway, they're pretty cool. You shoot enemies in front of you while driving and jumping over the occasional obstacle. There's even a few bosses. The pseudo 3D graphics also nail the look of that type of game on the Genesis.
Moonrider’s level designs feel like a mix of Shinobi III and Mega Man. There's lots of enemies, places to wall jump, and plenty of hazards, like electrified floors, flamethrower turrets, spikes, and moving platforms. There's definitely a lot of platforming, but I never felt like it was the focus of the game. I think the game has a good balance between platforming and combat. I also never felt like it was the hardest part of the game, or as difficult as in a lot of Mega Man games. I think the part I had the toughest time with was the bosses and minibosses. They're very well designed and will force you to learn their patterns to defeat them, especially before you get some of the more powerful weapons in the game.
I love the art style in this game. Yes, just like in Blazing Chrome, the graphics do a great job in mimicking the look of a Genesis game, but it's the 80s influenced style that makes the game look so cool. I love the design of all the enemy machines and vehicles. Everything has to have a skull or some kind of face on it. It reminds me of He-Man. All the robot masters look like a cross between Shredder and a Gundam, with robotic samurai armor and menacing looks on their metal faces. The backgrounds are also very well done. I especially liked the forest, sky stage, and the cave that looks like it's made of Xenomorphs. It reminds me of levels like that in Ninja Gaiden 2 and Devil May Cry 5. There's also a CRT effect filter complete with curved corners, if that's your sort of thing.
The music and sound effects are also spot on. The music is a mix of chiptune electronic stuff mixed with some more traditional Japanese sounding stuff in certain spots for that authentic Ninja anime sound. The bosses also have a bunch of voice clips, which are just the right amount of crunchy and distorted. They're like Street Fighter 1 quality voice clips and they're perfect.
Sega isn't making any new Shinobi games, and Capcom isn't making any Mega Man X games either, so this game is scratching 2 itches at the same time. I had a lot of fun playing through the levels and then going back in looking for the hidden items, the boss battles are very well designed, and I just love how the game looks. The game is fairly short, but it's very replayable, and the price is right. If you're a fan of Shinobi, Mega Man, or just a fan of retro Ninja games, you really can't go wrong with this.