Those of us who have been gaming since the times of the arcade remember Strider. In that game, you play a lone warrior with a sword going up against massive enemies, and you could climb the various walls and other surfaces in the game. Many gamers have been awaiting a return of this series, but as of yet, nothing has been announced.
Well, if you were looking for a spiritual successor to Strider, I might just have the game for you, Enter Moon Diver for XBLA and PSN, a game headed by Koichi Yotsui, who also headed the arcade hit. Play the game for even just a bit, and you will see the similarities with the old fan favorite. The question is can this game live up to it’s “predecesor?”
What’s This Game About?
Moon Diver is about the return of Faust in the 22nd century. Using the power of Mephistopheles – a force
which can breathe life into that which has none, he intends to destroy humanity and take earth all for himself. Standing between him and this goal are the Moondivers, a group of specially trained ninjas who have been lying in wait for orders from their shogun to fight back. Well, that day has arrived, and you take the role of one of these Moondivers as you fight against Faust and his minions.
Seems like a pretty in depth story for a downloadable game, right? Only thing is I did not get hardly any of that from playing the game itself; most of that description comes from the Wiki. The “cut scenes” in the game do a good job of explaining that this evil person is trying to destroy the earth and four heroes are trying to stop him, but that is about all you can really get from them. I do not know if some of this has to do with the localization, but this game is a bit out there. Granted, many people are kind of used to that from a game designed in Japan, but even taking that into consideration, the storyline is a little on the obscure side.
So if the story isn’t really one to grab you, the gameplay must, right? Well….
Rinse, Lather and Repeat
In Moon Diver, you take control of four different characters: Seyfert, Hitori, Tolby or Ourion. Each handles a little differently, and they each have a different magic spell to start off. You then jump right into the platforming battles, running though levels, climbing walls, swinging swords… all very reminiscent of Strider. You will find yourself going up against many different types of foes, including robots that shoot, fly, or even explode after you do enough damage. You gain experience by killing the enemy, and you can also build up kill combos, which will increase your experience and, if you can get a 50 kill combo, refill both your health and magic.
That’s right; I mentioned magic. You character starts off with one spell he or she can cast, and as you explore the levels, you will find others to equip as well. You can equip up to for spells at a time, switching among them with the D-pad on the controller. These spells can range from attacks that will damage everything on the screen to spells that will make your character invisible to most enemies for a short time, making it easier to build up kill combos. Each spell has different levels, with each higher level being more effective but also costing more magic. As you kill enemies, you can get orbs that will refill health and magic.
At it’s heart, the controls are fairly well designed, but it quickly starts to feel repetitive. You will go up against the same enemies over and over again, and at many points in most of the levels you will come across areas where you will have to destroy several waves of enemies before you can advance. There are boss battles, and those can be interesting, but they do not do enough to really break up the monotony of the game.
Remember where I said you gain experience and other spells in the game? Well, you will level up once you have enough experience, giving you a point to put toward health, magic or power (stronger attacks), and you can configure up to four spells to take with you into each game. Only issue is you cannot do either of these while you are actively playing through a level. You have to either beat the level or die, which will then allow you to make the changes.
Coop Is Better, But….
One thing that does change things up a bit is the ability to play up to four player coop. You and up to three of your friends can team up to take on the armies of Faust together. The good news is many of the spells you pick up throughout the game have combined affects: if you hold the magic button down, you allies will get
a symbol advising them they can cast with you, and the combined power of your casting can be really impressive. You also can rescue your friends in coop if they die; you have a certain amount of time to break the bonds around your friends when they die so they can rejoin the fight.
There are only two issues with the coop. One is if two of you are using the same character, they look way too much alike. In fact, the only real difference is each one will have a marker for which player is controlling that character, and with as frantic as this game can get, it is really easy to loose sight of which one is yours. Add to that the fact that you level each character in the game up individually, and it will be really easy to have two people using the same character. The other problem is trying to keep four players together in a frantic platform fighter is easier said than done.
So now you are all probably figuring I am not enjoying Moon Diver. I’m sure this review up to this point has read like it was written by someone who was not happy with the game. Well….
Moon Diver can be really frustrating. You will find yourself replaying levels both to try and get new spells and just to gain experience. You will lose track of your character in multiplayer, and you will die. A lot.
And yet, you will still want to play this game.
It is really hard to explain how it did it, but this game got me hooked. I found myself playing through an entire level three times the other night just to be able to do things exactly the right way so I could get a spell I had just spotted. There is something truly satisfying about going back into the game and trying to figure out just how to get through levels faster and just how different they will feel now that you have some new abilities. In short, this game constantly challenges you to improve upon the way you play it, and that makes it a game which is hard to stop playing.
Moon Diver has its faults and can be an incredibly frustrating game, but something about it does just grab you. As I mentioned, it really is hard to explain. I just know I am enjoying this game a whole lot more than I feel like I should be. Maybe it is just the old school gamer in me relishing in what seems to be a game made for the Retro crowd. Whatever it is, I’m hooked.
Moon Diver is not going to be a game for everyone. Some people will be hooked by it even more rapidly than I was; others will probably not get into the game at all. Still, if you were a fan of the Strider or have been looking for a recent game with that nostalgic retro feel, this may be the game for you.
[starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]