I want to love Moon Hunters, I really do. I know there are a lot of negative points in this review, but I have tried to be as fair as I can. I’m judging the game purely on how well it fulfills its design pillars (Deeds, Combat, and Reputation), but it just falls short on each one. There is vast potential here, but each pillar seems to suffer from some fatal flaw.
Moon Hunters pitches its mythology as one of its core features, which should indicate that there is a world and story of some kind to invest yourself in. The problem is, I don’t care about the world or its characters because it doesn’t take the time to let me get to know them or let me in on what is happening.
This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the game’s focus were purely on its combat, but it isn’t. And even if it were, Balance and AI issues keep the combat from taking off.
There are good ideas at work in Moon Hunters, but the pieces just didn’t come together here. It feels like Kitfox Games needed more time to work on the game, and it’s ironic because time is what ends up holding Moon Hunters back from being the game it could have been.
- The art direction and visual effects are outstanding. Characters effectively express themselves in simple movements and environments have this amazing moving shadow effect that lends depth to the 2-D game world.
- Moon Hunters is super easy to pick up and play, and is a fun time with friends on the couch. It doesn’t require a ton of focus to master, which makes the game a very relaxing affair in a party setting.
- Speaking of relaxing, I could listen to this game’s music all day. On more than one occasion, I just left Moon Hunters on while I went to make food just so that I could listen to the Enya-esque soundtrack. The Songweaver’s tune is by far the best. When you combine that kind of sound with the repetitions of Hack n’ Slash Action RPG mechanics, Moon Hunters makes for an authentically cathartic experience.
- Controls for the characters are tight and intuitive, but I highly recommend playing the game with a controller if you are playing on PC. It’s not that the keyboard and mouse don’t work, they certainly do, but the simplicity of the experience meshes better with a gamepad.
- The character classes are satisfyingly varied. You have a melee warrior that can create tornados, a mage that can create dark voids to hold enemies in place (She is the best character IMO), a shape shifter that turns into a wolf, a dragoon-like witch with an energy beam as well as two more unlockable characters that I won’t spoil.
- As you play through each of the hour long sessions (yes it will take you only an hour to beat Moon Hunters, but more on that below), the game leaves little nuggets of things you can unlock on later playthroughs, which is designed to serve as the motivation to replay the game.
- Moon Hunters also does this neat audio trick where you enter a cave and the sound becomes muffled which helps add immersion to the experience.
- Exploration is key, and leads to some very satisfying runs if everything breaks right (more on that below).
- The story is very abbreviated which makes it difficult to establish any sort of emotional connection to the events of the narrative since you are struggling to figure out what’s even going on. All you really know is that the Moon has disappeared and you need to figure out what happened. This is especially true in the initial run throughs, though you will come to understand things the more you play the game.
- Moon Hunters has a big balance issue. During the final boss encounter on my first playthrough, I simply spammed the attack button to defeat the boss, moving very minimally. At first I dodged the boss’ attacks and followed the pattern that the game wanted me to, but it was very easy to break.
- Piggy backing on the balance issue above, certain characters are nearly impossible to play as by yourself. Specifically, the unlockable characters. Though Moon Hunters mostly pitches itself as a multiplayer focused experience, the developers acknowledged in their Kickstarter video that they expected most people to play the game by themselves. Unfortunately, the gameplay is not always friendly to solo players. I got wrecked as the shape shifter, Enkidu right out of the gate, which set back my character progression to the point that I couldn’t recover.
- Many people are going to be a bit surprised when they see how quickly a run through can be completed the first time. I certainly was. But the biggest detriment this has on the game is that it’s pretty difficult to see how your actions and decisions matter in the scope of the world events, especially since you can’t revisit any locations you’ve already been to.
- As you play through Moon Hunters, you will come to see that characters from previous runs become enshrined as statues, which can be interacted with for stat boosts. Narratively, this is supposed to sell the “legendary hero mythology” aspect on future playthroughs, but it doesn’t work all that well. It’s especially confusing when you find your enshrined character staring at their own statue in your current run coupled with the fact that you are replaying the same overarching story over and over again. This might have made more sense if they had played around with time loop narrative beats, but unfortunately I was only left confused.
- There are quite a few bugs and glitches in Moon Hunters, namely with enemy AI. A lot of times, enemies will get stuck on items in the environment allowing the player to easily finish them off. You will also get many notifications saying you have unlocked the same skin or starting environment and achievements don’t always register. Also, there will be times when the mythology descriptions of your actions from a run won’t always match what happened. One told me that my character “stamped out signs of the Sun Cult where ever I found it”. The problem was the only time I ever fought a member of the Sun Cult was the final boss.
- The camping mechanics are also problematic in the sense that they too can be spammed easily to create an OP character. At the end of each day (or death), the player is returned to their campsite where they can partake in several activities to boost certain stats before taking on the next day’s challenge. Once you get comfortable with each characters stats, and figure out what each activity does, there really isn’t a need to do anything but the corresponding activity to beat the game. Moon Hunters’ short length has a lot to do with this, in that you really don’t have time to experiment with different builds. I mean, technically you can but you will be at a distinct disadvantage when the final boss rolls around.
- Continuing off of the point above, one of the more interesting activities (and stretch goals), Cooking, is easily pushed to the side in this case because of the uncertain benefits you get from doing it. If you end up with a mix that doesn’t make anything, you miss a critical level up opportunity or if you manage to make something, it might give you a boost for a statistic your character doesn’t use. I really only used Cooking just to see what would happen, not because I felt it was vital to me.
- The Online Mode is mostly broken, though the developers have specified that it is still in Beta. I have been mostly unable to connect to any game, and when I did, it took well in excess of five minutes to get into a room before I was dropped. The only reliable way to play multiplayer is couch co-op at this time.
- The runs you make through Moon Hunters are inconsistent, and the successes of which are in many cases determined by the first level. The game’s levels are procedurally generated, so sometimes you might get five enemies on the first level, other times you might get 20. The more enemies there are, the more money they drop that you can use to level up your character right away. But with more enemies, comes a greater chance of dying, and if you do, you start with no money, and it’s a pretty big hole to dig yourself out of.
- Constellations unlock on the main screen after each run you make, but they serve as little more than words. And that’s really the problem with the mythology and reputation systems in this game. Most of it is just words without much in the way of real meaning. I don’t want to be told what I did or that I was revered/brave/foolish or whatever personality trait I unlock. I want to do those things.
About a year ago, I was perusing through Kickstarter’s video game campaign section. I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular, I just wanted to see if anything caught my eye. Eventually something did, a Myth-Weaving couch co-op Action RPG called Moon Hunters by a young studio called Kitfox Games.
The game had a brilliant next-gen pixel-art style and gameplay that resembled some of my favorite top-down dungeon crawlers like Diablo or Champions of Norrath. Obviously, I was hooked as were many others. The campaign went on to earn over $178,000; way above their target goal of $45,000. No doubt, it was a resounding success for the studio.
Then six months ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing the Creative Director on Moon Hunters, Tanya X. Short, who gave some great insight on the game’s development. She told me that the game’s three main design pillars are Deeds, Combat, and Reputation. Deeds allow the players to take action in the world around them to reflect their personality. Combat empowers the player and drives the action forward while Reputation is the resulting satisfaction the player sees from their actions in the game world.
Now finally, Kitfox Games has released Moon Hunters to the public on Steam (with a PS4 release due sometime this year), but unfortunately the game isn’t quite what I was hoping for.
I will say this for Kitfox Games, Moon Hunters is clearly the game they wanted to make. It’s unique ideas are on full display. Moon Hunters, in terms of its design, is a reflection of the freedom granted only to those in the indie scene; it’s just unfortunate that many of its ideas don’t pan out.
Let’s take a look at what worked and what did not in Moon Hunters.