Moonscars is a 2D soulslike with a metroidvania structure and a grimdark world, complimenting a unique setting and story. Moonscars is a successful new addition to the arena of soulslike games, with an engaging story and intriguing world building. While, its features have been seen before and are absolutely not original to Moonscars, it those features its own, and they are incorporated incredibly well into the gameplay and its narrative progression.
Combat is simple and to the point, with the standard array of light and heavy attacks, as well as a dodge and a parry for avoiding the enemy’s attacks. Attacks can be stitched together to create a variety of different combos, The game features an unlockable skill tree that allows you to equip a pair of special abilities. Some of the available abilities are entirely new attacks or summons, while others are based around improving your standard attacks by adding status effects like poison. These abilities cost ichor to use, which is the Moonscars equivalent of mana. Ichor can be recharged by standard attacks against enemies, and can also be used to heal. At first, you only have three bars of ichor, but as you progress through the game, you will be able to increase this amount to keep up with more powerful abilities that will cost more.
You are able to choose one special weapon whenever you rest at a new safe zone or “dark mirror”. The weapons available each offer a noticeably different style of combat, and when paired with equipped abilities, help to keep your approach to encounters varied and interesting. There are four special weapons in total, but you are only able to choose from three at each dark mirror. The weapons that you can choose from have the potential of providing a bonus that will slightly improve one of your stats, such as max health or max Ichor.
The main attraction to Moonscars for me is the appearance and the effort that has been put into the art design. The grim and corrupted world that has been designed feels appropriate for the genre and mood, but not at all bleak or void of colour. The backdrops compliment the theme well, and the varying scenery between areas keep you immersed and satisfied visually.
Moonscars really shines through in the designs and animations of the characters and enemies. The enemies are all well-designed and unique, their movements feel fair and realistic to their appearances and sizes, and their ranges of attacks keep the combat interesting and feel satisfying because they are detailed really well with lots of effort shown consistently from the build up to the attack all the way through to the cooldown and movement.
Moonscars is challenging, while it might not seem like one due to its short play time. The regular enemies that you deal with throughout the game are difficult at first, and it does take a bit of time to get used to their move sets and learn when to counter-attack. Then the difficulty stays consistent when they start to introduce new enemies or a few varying enemy types where you might have to change up your approach.
Another interesting mechanic in Moonscars is the change in the state of the moon where after a death some enemies at random will be made stronger with increased health and damage. This will make some encounters a great deal harder if a higher number of enemies receive this buff. If that one more powerful enemy is just that much of a nuisance. Fortunately, this effect just randomises again upon death, and it doesn’t increase any further with difficulty.
Instead of a larger range of boss fights, Moonscars will often obstruct the player with, what I would class as, challenge rooms In these you are locked in a room and confronted with a group of varying enemy types. You must defeat these rounds of monsters before being able to proceed or leave the way you came. These rooms are placed throughout the game and either lead you further along the main story objectives or to small collectibles that increase your stats such as your max health and base damage. These rooms can become repetitive as they tend to throw in similar groups every time, with the same group being what they would class as a difficult bunch of enemies and consistently challenging.
From the beginning, almost nothing is explained about the world and role you play in it. The game does an astounding job of building an elaborate world with an original theme.
The characters you meet are well-developed and interactions throughout are well written, feeling deeply rewarding. You feel drawn to them, which makes you curious to learn more about them and how they deal with such a harsh, uncaring world.
Any frustration I do have with the story comes from being given just enough to be invested, with little more given as a reward. You want to know more at every step, but you are also given just enough that you don’t ever get to have the full picture. Although I would much rather be able to scroll through pages of lore to learn about the world of Moonscars, I believe that this obfuscation is key to the post apocalyptic universe that the game is crafting. It makes sense that in a world long ruined, that the only bits of lore you are able to take in come from the few survivors scattered around and the interpretation you make of your surroundings.
Overall, I think that Moonscars stands out from the rest of soulslike games, and it is certainly one of the more memorable original ideas that I have seen in this genre. It is unique and creative throughout, with great storytelling and satisfying combat. I do wish that there were more bosses rather than the challenge rooms we see so often, as well as just a wider variety of enemies in general. Although the playtime might be on the shorter side for this type of game, I think it is a must-try for anyone interested in a darker setting and is a rewarding experience.