It’s been awhile since we’ve played a game that even comes close to resembling Strider. And then you get Moon Diver, a four-player side-scrolling action platformer, which not only looks like a modern version of the arcade classic, but it’s even made by the game’s original director, Kouichi Yotsui. It almost sounds too good to be true. Unfortunately, it actually is. Moon Diver is a mindless action game that is all style with very little substance.
There are four playable characters to choose from. Each character has their own unique attributes and fighting style. Like Strider, you can climb on walls, hang on platforms, and do crazy flips. The most notable difference is the addition of a magic system, referred to as Moonsault Combinations (or MC for short). You can equip up to four different spells to use in battle. Some MCs allow you to heal, freeze enemies, decrease the amount of damage you take, or simply attack all enemies on screen. You’ll find MCs scattered throughout every level and each one you find might be a new spell entirely or a better version of one you already have. You can also level up your characters by simply killing everything in your path.[drop]The game features 12 stages in total which are split into three acts. Each level is separated into different areas ranging from small corridors with multiple branching paths to large open spaces with plenty of room for exploration. Too bad there really isn’t anything worth checking out; there’s nothing exciting about lifeless stages with very little consistency in design. One moment you might find yourself on a platform, and in the next, you’re in the air for some reason. This lack of cohesion is really distracting. Poor level design is something that occurs frequently all throughout.
As you progress through each level, your path will be blocked off until you kill a bunch of enemies (think Devil May Cry). Considering how Moon Diver is all about crazy fast chaotic action, it’s weird having these sections slowing everything down. This wouldn’t be that big of an issue if the combat actually involved some degree of skill. Instead, all you’re doing is fighting the same four enemy types while mashing on the attack button. The worst enemy you’ll encounter are the dreaded laser turrets, which can kill you in pretty much one hit. The later levels are completely littered with turrets to add a false sense of difficulty. It’s not fun and it’s not challenging. It’s bad design. The best example of cheap level design comes in the final stage ; it’s ridiculously long, not because it actually has tons of areas to explore, but because you’re forced to go through the same sections numerous times before you encounter the final boss.
Even the boss battles are lacking, although there’s a bit more strategy involved. Basically, you’re still just mashing on the attack button, which is fine for an action game, but the bosses are just large enemies with cheap moves. It’s pretty much game over if you get hit once. There are no continues or checkpoints. You need to start a level from the beginning each time you die, although it’s not as bad as it sounds since levels are relatively short. Thankfully, you get to keep all of the experience points earned before your untimely death.
Moon Diver features a drop in and out multiplayer component. It works well and slightly changes the gameplay. Most notably, you can actually revive characters if one of them was killed in battle. It’s only game over when everyone has been knocked out at the same time. You can also team up to perform Moonsault Combinations. This allows you to freely use magic without worrying about MP cost. Some MCs have brief, unskippable animations, meaning it gets old before it ever becomes interesting.[drop2]Playing online, unfortunately, is not without its fair share of faults. For some reason, there is no way to boot people out of a lobby. This becomes a problem when you’re a level 40 character and someone that’s level 5 joins you. It completely destroys your momentum. It’s weird because you can actually filter out rooms by level, but you can’t create rooms with such limits. There’s also no way to exit out of a lobby unless you quit the game entirely through the XMB or wait until the level starts, neither of which is convenient.
There are brief moments of brilliance when playing Moon Diver cooperatively, but it doesn’t last very long. It’s just too difficult to keep up with all the action. It’s even worse when someone picks the same character. Imagine seeing the same purple person four times on screen jumping around like a maniac. There’s no visual differentiation and it just becomes a confusing mess. Needless to say, it’s not very fun. It’s also frustrating when you have partners that can’t work together and decide on where to go. There is voice chat support, so that should help keep things organized.
Overall, the game’s presentation lacks polish and it feels unfinished. The environments are full of ugly textures and the levels are uninteresting in design. And good luck trying to make any sense out of the story. It’s just a bunch of insane cryptic phrases before the start of each level. It really makes no sense.
- Character models look nice
- The action is crazy fast and full of combos
- Tons of hidden magic to collect
- Online play works well
- Environments are distractingly ugly at times
- Co-op with four players is an absolute mess
- Online mode is missing basic features
- The level design is dull and uninteresting
- Overly repetitive gameplay that never feels satisfying
- A disturbing lack of enemy variety
- Artificial difficulty spike throughout the later half of the game
- Nonsensical cutscenes that can’t be skipped
- The final stage
If you’re looking for a modern take on a classic franchise that’s both challenging and fun to play, check out Hard Corps: Uprising instead. It’s a far better game.