Moonfall Ultimate (Switch) - Review
Moonfall Ultimate is a 2-D side-scrolling, beat-em-up, action RPG set in an industrial gothic universe. The game is available now on all platforms, PC, PS4, Xbox, and Switch. This review will be for the Switch version only, as I have not played it on the other platforms. This indie game is developed by Fishcow Studios, out of Slovakia, and Published by Wales Interactive. It currently is having a special release sale, which is 20% off the original $13.
Side scrolling beat em ups were a popular genre of games in the late 80s and early 90s. Moonfall takes heavy inspiration from Golden Axe, developed by Sega. Other classic games such as TMNT: Turtles in time, The Simpsons arcade game, and even the Mighty morphing Power Rangers game followed this popularity. With the Streets of Rage revival in the works, there is definitely still a fondness for these types of games when they were in their prime. I was drawn to Moonfall Ultimate because of its unique setting, art style and tone. It instantly reminded me of Diablo and the I was excited about the action RPG elements they showed in the trailer. Unfortunately, it falls short in many aspects but did keep me entertained because of its core game play.
The game starts with little exposition, as you are a new recruit for the Empire who is sent to the front lines to fight off the threat of Savages. Other than the intro that quickly sets up the backstory of a once prosperous Empire, its king, and the mysterious resource of Lunarium, you will also find messages scattered throughout the levels that shed more light on the backstory. I feel the story was one of the biggest let downs of the game. The game’s website has way more intriguing info that is not mentioned in the game at all. I wished I could have learned more about the mysterious murders of the previous king, under who lead to the era of prosperity, the current Emperor, and the experimentation with Lunarium. This mineral seems to be the source of both prosperity and technological advancement, while also seeming to be the cause of the conflict with the Savages. Questions like who are the savages? What is their goals? Who are the Lunomancers? How is the emperor involved? Are all questions that I never got the answer to.
Fortunately, the game play was fun and kept me playing where the story didn’t. There are three classes, the Vanguard, which is your warrior, the Elemental Engineer, which is the mage, and the Shadow, which is similar to a rogue. Each time you level up you receive one stat point, and one skill point to allocate the way you want. For stats, you can choose between Strength, Mind, or Agility. Strength increases your total health, health regeneration, and physical damage. Mind increases your mana, mana regen, and spell damage. And agility increases your critical chance, cooldown reduction, and armor. You can choose to dump all your skills into one or balance them.
The skill tree allows you to gain powerful active and passive abilities. There are four different active abilities for each class, and similar to the stat points, I enjoyed the freedom to build the character to suit my play style. One thing common to the skill points and abilities is that you cannot reset stat or skill points once you spend them. This isn’t generally a problem if your first playthrough is on the easy or normal difficulty. Of course, the mind power stat isn’t going to be as useful to a warrior, and there are some abilities that are more useful than others, but learning is part of the enjoyment.
Another important aspect to any ARPG is the loot, and in Moonfall you collect vials of Lunarium off enemies that are used as the game's currency. Enemies also drop HP and Mana potions, which you can hold up to 8 of each. While abilities have a cooldown, potions do not. Weapons and armor are only found in chests or can be purchased at the town hub before or after a mission. Potions and accessories can also be purchased from a vendor, but easy and normal difficulty can be beaten with just the items you find, sometimes making the currency you collect not worthwhile. Items in chests appear to be randomized, as sometimes you will get lucky to get a unique item from one chest, but replaying the same level again will most likely give you a common item. Weapons and armor have a variety of different effects such as doubling critical chance or increasing exp.
The first 30 minutes of the game is definitely the hardest for each class, as you don’t have any potions or skills to survive. The Vanguard class is the easiest class to play as they have the highest health, an AOE attack that stuns enemies, and a unique power bar that increases your health regeneration as you deal damage. Each class has their own unique power bar. The Elemental has a bar that is split in two directions, as you use fire spells it goes in one direction giving melee weapons fire enchantment to deal bonus fire damage and chance to burn enemies on hit. Using ice skills moves it the other way, enchanting your weapon with ice damage and chance to slow enemies. The Shadow class also has a bar with two directions, but instead of fire and ice spells, the classes use melee and ranged attacks. Using melee will move it more to one direction, and gives you a bonus attack on your next ranged attack. This encourages players to switch back and forth to make the most of the mechanic. However, you don’t have to play this way, and can just use fire skills for an elemental or only ranged attacks for a shadow if you choose. As potion drops seem to be random, you will often be waiting for your health to regenerate if you are short on potions. Another reason why the Vanguard, with its high health regen is the easiest to play.
While the game is short, the co-op mode and endless mode can extend the enjoyment of the game. For co-op mode, you will need a second pair of Joycons or pro-controllers to play. In endless mode, you can choose your difficulty and are given a max level character to go through rooms of random enemies you encounter in the game. You start will all the skills unlocked and 14 stat points which you are free to allocate to your liking. You don’t start with any equipment other than a weapon, but every 4 rooms or so will provide you with a chest. Which you’ll need as you fight through a combination of enemies encountered in the game. This is also helpful for new players that want to try a skill or unsure how spending stat points will affect their character in the main story.
I played the game on the Switch and would not recommend it for two reasons. The first is the way the button layout is set, unlike the PC version or console version, the way you use your skills is very awkward. You press A to use your skill, but instead of being able to map your other skills to other buttons, you need to press Y to shuffle to the next skill. This leads to using the wrong skill often and slows down the use of skills. Based on the screenshots of the PC and console version, it looks like the switch version is the only one that does it this way. I wish the game added a way to map your skills to specific buttons which seems like the norm in most games since many of the buttons are not even utilized. Also, the health and Mana bar is in the upper left corner of the screen, which I wanted to move toward the center. The game shows the damage you inflict on enemies but not the damage you take, so many times I would die not knowing that I was taking so much damage from ranged or caster enemies. And once you die you have to start the whole level over, which is a bit annoying. Since there are no checkpoints during a mission.
There are no side quests, or character development. You get one mission from the town hub, complete it and return for a new one. There is a character, Lady Felan, that seems significant but doesn’t join you on any missions or is even included in the story in any way. This character seems to appears in the game’s alpha footage, but may have been changed during development. The writing of the secret messages left on the stages also feel out of place. I’m still not sure if all these secret messages are written by the Savages you are fighting or the prior inhabitants that used to occupy the areas. The casual modern day tone that the messages are written in do not reflect the industrial gothic setting that the game takes place in. The boss battles, which there are three, are interesting when you first encounter them, but become tedious as they all boil down to the same boring tactic. Which is waiting for them to attack, go it for a couple hits, then run back to avoid being attacked, then repeat.
Another problem, which may or may not be a problem with the switch version, is that the game suffers from frequent crashes. In my first playthrough I experienced 2-3 crashes, but while trying to beat it again with the other classes, the game would crash about every 30mins-1hr randomly. Again because the game can’t be saved during a mission, it's extremely frustrating when the game crashes when you are almost done with a mission exploring all areas of the map. The game plays the same in both docked mode as well as handheld mode, and I couldn’t tell a difference in performance. In both modes the game seems to suffer from slowing or frame rate issues. It doesn’t depend on how many enemies are on the screen, but the game does randomly stutter which makes it hard to dodge, block or switch weapons in the thick of battle.
Overall the game is entertaining while it lasts but I don’t see myself returning after beating the game with the 3 classes. The game can definitely be improved and would deserve a higher score if it fixed some of these issues, or added more content. Overall for a game in its genre, I would say this game is below average and would give it a grade of a D. If you are looking for a game more ARPG focused I would suggest games like Diablo 3 or Path of Exile. If you want a good side scrolling beat em up two game that come to mind are Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game or A King’s Tale: FFXV.
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