Date: September 29, 2022
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is the newest retro action-platformer from JoyMasher. Building on years of experience developing retro-inspired gems like Oniken, Odallus, and Blazing Chrome, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider looks like it might be JoyMasher’s most exciting project yet. The trailer, released last month, showcases high-octane, 16-bit samurai action, and the game has been described by the developers as a “futuristic ninja action platformer.” As a fan of 16-bit action platformers, that’s all I need to get excited. But, it does beg the question: does Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider live up to (or even go beyond) its 90s inspirations?
Well, JoyMasher, and their publisher The Arcade Crew, were kind enough to let me find out. They gave me access to a half-hour demo for the game, featuring brief-but-varied excerpts from its first two levels so that I could get a taste of its promised grimy world and slick gameplay. Enough waiting, though: I’m ready to experience some bloody, cybersamurai action!
Let’s start with the game’s most central mechanic: combat. By tying different styles of attacks into movement, Moonrider seamlessly blends its slick movement with its aggressive combat, making you truly feel like the killing machine Moonrider is meant to be. You are armed with a sword as your basic attack and a special attack which can be changed between several different abilities (though for the demo I only had access to one: the Moonspear).
While this makes combat easy to grasp, there is a surprising amount of complexity here, because your basic attack is modified based on your movement. Attacking while running does more damage, but vaults you forward — potentially into enemies — and takes a moment to recover from. Downwards attacks do more damage than basic attacks as well, but have to be timed carefully, and are more effective against static enemies. And, if you just want to slice your way through enemies like butter, you can combo your basic attacks into a quick whirl of strikes. All this in the midst of the kind of precise, quick platforming you might expect from a “futuristic ninja action platformer.”
The highlights of Moonrider’s gameplay don’t stop at the end of your blade. Your character, after all, is only half of any combat. And so, we come to the next most important thing in any classic action-platformer: the enemies. And, I’m pleased to report, enemy variety is off the charts, and every single enemy is either fun to fight because of their challenging mechanics, or fun to dispatch with ease, leaving behind a bloody mist and flying limbs. They are also excellently designed, communicating clearly what their “deal” is without sacrificing style.
But what about the most important enemies in these kinds of retro games, the bosses? Well, the demo gave me a chance to square off against one at the end of the first level: a gigantic, mechanized skeleton, its body made of what looked like either bloody entrails or inhuman wiring (or, perhaps, both?). From the moment its maw unhinged with a mighty roar, revealing the barrel of a laser gun, I knew I was in for a treat. Over the next minute or so, I dodged bullet-hell-esque projectiles and energy beams, fighting back with my sword and Moonspear. The fight was clear and strategic, a conflict as much about reacting as acting first. While it could use some more complexity, the fight was reminiscent of some of the best early-game bosses of Moonrider’s inspirations. A very promising first boss indeed…
At the end of each level, you are given a rank based on your score (presumably increased through kills and pickups), speed, and items found. Given the blitz-pace that the levels demand, I can already see this game becoming an excellent hotspot for speed runners and score-chasers alike. After all, who can resist going for that elusive S-rank on each level? This wasn’t too difficult for me to achieve on both level snippets in the demo, and I hope I have to chase a bit more to achieve the S-ranks in the actual game, but it is a nice addition that added replayability even to the demo.
Finally, let’s briefly talk about the aesthetics: Moonrider does not try to hide that it is taking pages from the books of Robocop, Gundam, H.R. Giger, and Berserk (to name just a few). The demo showcases it as an amalgamation of its influences, with plenty of creativity in design and willingness to go as over-the-top as possible to make it bleed cool. It has a feel I can only describe as “crunchy,” with as much camp and emphasis put on that word as possible. The visual design of everything, from the backgrounds to the characters, may not be particularly innovative in terms of style, but it fits right at home in the pantheon of 90s metal and industrial properties that inspired it.
Overall, everything in the demo I was given for Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider has me excited to play the full release. From the grimy, 90s-metal aesthetic to the slick and brutal combat, the whole demo felt and looked authentic and great. I can’t wait to see whether the full game continues the momentum set up by this demo and maybe — just maybe — reaches the same heights as some of its nostalgic inspirations.
How about you? Looking forward to this “futuristic ninja action platformer”? Or just want to reminisce about the old games and films which inspired it? Either way, let us know in the comment below! And if this seems as much up your alley as it does mine, be sure to check Vengeful Guardian: Moodrider out on Steam here!