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PostPosted: Mon May 28, 2018 10:25 am 
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The game seems to have been received well, if Steam reviews are anything to go by: https://store.steampowered.com/app/8383 ... _the_Moon/

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PostPosted: Mon May 28, 2018 1:44 pm 
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Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2016 2:55 am
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Location: Gothenburg, Sweden
After a pretty intense weekend of work instead of going to the gothenburg retro games expo (as usual), i treated myself with it.

I haven't beaten the last boss or anything and have read that there's more to the game than meets the eye, so this short note should be read in that light.
Edit: beat it. Updating the notes accordingly.

If describe it with as few words as possible, its appeal lands somewhere between Castlevania III, rondo of blood and castlevania adventures rebirth (wiiware). It's kind of hard not to compare it to actionvania titles. It is an actionvania, through and through, with a few modern sensibilities and ideals mixed in.

Some notes follow. Revised after i beat the last boss. It is trying to dissect the design of the game in order to learn something from it, rather than being a review. Excuse the wall of text.

Pathtaking:
All pathways you take are ultimately reconnecting with the main rail, so in that sense it is closer to the latest of the three games listed which i found intuitive to compare with.

Length:
After playing it some, i feel you get a very decent set of pretty-looking levels for your money. Beating it means a higher difficulty which i think is slightly more interesting in ways i shouldn't spoil.

Overall challenge:
If you're playing on the switch, you will want to use the pro controller, except perhaps if you play in casual mode. This game is best served with a d-pad.

The difficulty at veteran mode (not to be confused with higher difficulty settings, which you need to unlock) is mostly to my taste. It borrows a few gauntlets and rooms from castlevania 1 and 3 more or less exactly, but at least the player characters' attacks and skills are different enough that the experience is kept different even in those instances. You'll find that many enemies replicate behaviour in a pretty close fashion to castlevania titles, too. There's also the ending of a stage (i won't disclose which) which feels carbon copied out of rondo of blood.

I don't think the levels are as well made as in CV1 and 3, but they're still pretty good. They're better than the wiiware game i'm also comparing to.

The last stretch of the campaign plays some tricks i feel belong to the penny stealing days of the arcades. Ie. you have no chance of predicting what will get you through the room the first or even the second try, eating away on your companions. I think the incentive was to ramp up the difficulty for the final stage, but it's mostly a game of memorizing gotchas without knowing any precedent. Compare this to the gauntlet in cv1 where you've met axe knights before, and medusas before, and therefore have a fair chance trying to beat the stretch, even if it is unlikely that you do on your first try. It provides some agency the final stage of this game doesn't have. There's even a stretch where you have to let your character commit suicide if you fail the timing once, yet survive. This is unfortunate. But it is totally possible to steel through, and pretty worth it, because the next difficulty mode feels well worth playing.

I love the qualities of the stiff jumps and pushbacks in the original nesvanias, as they work complementary to the challenges and level setups specific to those games. It's a welcome return, but i feel some of the platforming elements weren't really well tailored to this type of control scheme; or at least that's my impression. I feel this might become a common source of frustration. The casual mode is there to remedy some of that, but i'd rather that they had taken some more notes from cv1 in this particular matter and made the levels to match the mechanics just a little better.

Challenge related to bosses follow below.

Music:
There are some strong music pieces in there, especially towards the end, i think. Overall good, with some really nice gems here and there. Pretty even quality. Good songwriting.

Graphics:
The backgrounds are great looking. There's a few occasions i stopped just to look how they'd drawn some of the details. Enemies and bosses are mostly ranging decent to good looking, though i feel some of the sprite animations look a little goofy and could've used more attention to detail, timing and anatomy. Then again, budget constraints in a small-ish commercial title... Some of the unintuitive timings would've been really quick fixes though.

Oh and there's a nice throwback to nebulus / castelian among the graphic tricks.

Bosses:
I can't say i'm sold on their designs (that's a matter of taste), but they offer pretty good fights. The first is a little too predictable even for a first boss, i think, and many of the other bosses are also quite predictable, but it's all right as long as they're engaging.

The bosses get more complex in higher difficulty settings, which you unlock. Two of the bosses (on normal) i thought were among the toughest (including the last one) quickly became a no-hurt dance routine, so that's welcome.

If anyone is reading this monster text, is it only me who just doesn't see the proper strategy or is the second boss among the toughest in the whole game? haha. 1st and 3rd were successfully beaten on the first try and the difficulty ramped up progressively after that, but the 2nd took many, many tries until i found a way to bruteforce it. Same on "nightmare" difficulty.

The bosses are mostly (and very loosely) based on demons from various grimoires and occult belief systems, except bloodless, who is evidently based on 18th century-originating tropes about bathory erzsebet, when horror fiction began speculating that vanity was the motivation of her murders coincidentally erszebet is the inspiration for a main figure in my gothic horror project, too.

The game has a bit of an uphill compared to castlevania there. Most bosses in the cv series up until sotn are based or recent and widespread pop culture horror reiterations, as rendered by universal pictures and hammer film productions, instantly recognizeable and anticipate-able. Here, you have to be a bit of a religion / mysticism nerd to spot the references, especially as they're very liberally interpreted. As a player, you'll likely go "oh a demon, i wonder what this one will do", where as you can kind of foretell or at least circle in on the expectations of meeting mummies or the creature in cv. I'm not holding this against the game or anything, i just want to point out it as a point of interest in the design of this games' universe.

The boss Focalor, for example, is in its belief system described as a winged man and demon duke who brings storms to the sea and sinks ships. In the game, he is a tortoise-thing using ice magic. The storm bringing attributes seems to have been handed over to another boss (who in the same accounts would've been able to turn men into birds). Another demon who according to the same accounts can show the conjurer where serpents are, among other things, has instead become a serpent itself. And so on. These references are kind of cool, but maybe not immediately available. Ultimately a boss is a boss, and their respective fights are pretty entertaining.

Game mechanics:
It's pretty much what i expected! Veteran mode is pretty great, so i won't probably play casual mode unless i want to do some research. There are an extra lives until game over system to keep you on the edge of your seat, but every time i do die i find myself with more extra lives than i had the previous time i died, so they're pretty easy to collect. The situation is a lot more balanced than SMB3 on the other hand. At the end of the campaign it started decreasing, adding a good sense of tension.

Sometimes you're stuck with the wrong character for the wrong occasion which is as good as a game over (akin to double dragon 3 iirc), which can be a little frustrating, but it's not too bad. I'm not a fan of the characters having separate life meters because the difficulty largely becomes a matter of minding their separate gauges, but that's a minor note in a larger picture. I've gotten plenty of actionvania thrills out of this game in the time i've played it so far.

A neat thing is that the alucard-like guy gets potions instead of subweapons, so if you're satisfied with your subweapon setup you can always gain more ammo than usual this way. It kind of worked this way in CV3 too (except for stopwatches), but the versatility of this mechanism gets more pronounced when you've got more than one alternate character to select from.

Not too sure about the whole rock-paper-scissor-yness of the character switching vs enemies (it kind of shortcuts the joy of overcoming a challenge), but maybe i'll grow into liking it eventually. After all, it's one thing that sets this game aside from the games i'm comparing to and that could be cherished. An aspect of the game explained in second point below makes it possible to remove the game of rock-paper-scissor subgame and instead get a more measured increase of abilities vs challenges, which i thought was very enjoyable.

a few UX oddities:
-one thing i think new players will appreciate to know. the option in the pause menu that reads "curse of the moon" with the help text saying "activate curse of the moon" is actually how you go back to previous levels. I guess that's what the main characters' curse is all about, lol. Warning: As a side effect of going back, you lose all your upgrades gotten after the point you just went back to, so it's sort of more like a voluntary setback than a pure level revisit. I think the intention is to retain the incentives of getting special stuff all over again while also adjusting the challenge back to the original mark.

-(edit: added this in). This can be seen as a major spoiler, i'm honestly not sure. this feature seems trapped between conflicting intentions and implementations, and it's extremely easy to miss despite being a pretty central theme of the game. But the game kind of puts the horse behind the wagon when you make your companion choices (yes, you have a choice! as said, extremely easy to miss). If you talk to them, they will auto-join after they've made their case. Or you can walk right past them, but then you don't get to make an informed decision. You can even kill them, also without making an informed decision. Compare this to CV3 (of course) where they talk a line and THEN you decide what to do, + you're informed that you indeed do have a choice. Easy fix while keeping the three-way option tied to the platforming action itself: A dialogue option saying the equivalent of "Join me in my quest" or "let me think about it for a while". If making the decision to abandon/kill potential allies, the game will a bit oddly lecture you for it even though it is perfectly playable without allies. I guess this is to point to the easiest route for casual players, but i felt it was unnecessary and a bit confusing.

-With all these different subweapons costing different amounts, it'd helped a bit to change the colour of the ammo count if you haven't got enough for the current subweapon. I think games need to be better at displaying these kinds of things when there's no physical manual.

Dialogue/Story:
It iI'm going to get pretty stingy here, so if you haven't played the game yet, you might want to stop reading and find out if you find it to your liking or not without this as bias.

It is also possible that the story serves as a sort of appendix to the main title that was kickstarted, so i'd have to play that to make an assessment that resembles anything fair. The below is just my first and subjective impression.

But it is quite suboptimal IMO. Straight off lines given at game start, it becomes clear i'm not going to have any expectations on the story, so i mainly play to play. I don't think there's much of an incentive given the story so far, so what makes me want to play is exploring the environments. You're introduced to the main character, which is somehow cursed. In a folk tale you'd get some juicy details about the nature of the curse, but here it feels more like simulacrum.. Also... did they even look up what an alchemist does? Apparently just a cool word they decided to rob of any actual content. There's no trajectory. Just a state that gets a sudden (and somewhat confusing) release at the end of the campaign, narrated by a text that flickers between two cutscenes. This, plus the never-changing, over the top hostile edgyness of the main character, makes me want to skip any text whatsoever and just play the game on other merits than its narrative premise.

It is kind of weird that if you tap up to read a sign, what you get is that character seems to be talking to him/herself. It's not even "it says here that.." but more his/her reflections on the adventure, strategies, and controls. One route dependent sign in particular almost sounded like it was inscribed by a traveler/adventurer prior to your arrival, but why would anyone stop their journey to cobble a complete waysign?

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