The burden of past endeavours seems to weigh heavy on some, perhaps no more so than Koichi Yotsui, the creator of the original Strider. That game was THE benchmark for 2D side-scrolling titles of its time and arguably for a large part of what’s come afterwards too. Now he’s been drafted in to add his considerable talents to Square-Enix’s modern take on the genre, Moon Diver. The question is, does he still possess the magic touch after all this time?
Set in the 22nd century, Moon Diver tells the story of a world in near ruin at the hands of Faust, a boy wielding the unimaginable power of Mephistopheles which can create life from nothing. Up against such a force (and let’s face it, after being able to lay waste to an entire world this kid isn’t going to be fobbed off with a KFC Bargain Bucket and a used copy of Modern Warfare 2 ) it doesn’t look too clever for the remaining population of the third planet from the sun. Thankfully, hidden among the survivors, lurks a small band of heroes who can help thwart the threat of Faust and his army.
Set across twelve levels, each divided into sub-stages, Moon Diver is your classic side-scrolling action platformer in the mould of the aforementioned Strider, but with a dash of Castlevania thrown in for good measure. The player can select one of four characters with which to hack, slash and generally disfigure everything in their path and all the tropes familiar to the genre are present and correct; fight your way through the different levels until confronting a boss (of screen-filling proportions), rinse and repeat to the end.
Each enemy dispatched adds to an experience bar which allows the player to expand their health, magic and power meters over time. Typical of titles that utilise this system, the initial levels fly in, but once the high teens and early twenties are reached it can become something of a grind. There’s additional tools which can be added to the players arsenal in the form of MoonSault Combinations (MC’s) dotted around the various stages, some in the open, some devilishly hidden away in hard to reach locations. Amongst offensive skills, MC’s are also able to deliver temporary invisibility, or blind enemies, allowing some respite from the action.
The art style has a classical Japanese feel to it, with all of the four main player characters imbued with designs that will no doubt have people turning up at Expo’s and Cosplay functions dressed as any one of the them. Highly generic they may be, but in the context of the game they do the job just fine. Graphically everything looks good with some stand-out levels on show, but what would’ve been nice is a bit of variety in enemies encountered. Sadly there’s very little in the way of differences outside of boss encounters, even in the later levels.
Moon Diver was most definitely designed to be played with more than one person, so thankfully the online drop-in co-op is a thing of beauty and utterly seamless in all the time this reviewer tested it. Helping to keep each other alive can almost be a full time job (anyone who plays this game for any length of time will come to utter stinging profanities at the laser turrets which make too frequent an appearance), and combining MC’s to deliver health or super-charged attacks on a boss is an exhilarating experience, showing just how much thought has been put into this aspect.
In fact co-op play also reveals the true purpose of this game, in as much as the single player portion feels like an unnatural grind in comparison to how well everything fits together when playing with company. If the option for online gaming isn’t viable, the co-op can also be played locally and is as simple as connecting the additional controller and jumping in. Bravo to developer Feelplus for such a well thought out and elegant system, which could have easily been overlooked. Despite the fun and a sense of camaraderie fostered throughout, even the most patient of gamers will become bored by the sheer tedium that constitutes the twelfth and final level. As an exercise in frustration, it’s hard to find something that will pose a greater test to the patience of those in a group, so it’s no surprise to see some drop out long before the climatic final battle with Faust himself.
If anything stands out about Moon Diver it’s that it’s pretty unrelenting, but certainly not in the ways you expect. Certainly it can be difficult, but the monotony that kicks in after a few levels makes it a hard game to truly love for the solo player experience. Just like Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, those with a regular band of online friends will find it a fun game that makes perfect sense when a group are all fighting together, a factor that has to be considered when thinking of purchasing this title. Solo players need not apply.