Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Renegade Kid
Release Date: November 18, 2008
The Nintendo DS' touch-screen is perhaps the system's most underutilized feature. While a number of games make clever use of the two screens or Wi-Fi Functionality, most touch-screen additions seem like afterthoughts at best. That isn't to say there aren't any games that use the touch-screen wisely, but for every Trauma Center, you get three Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrows or Sonic Chronicles, where the forced touch-screen implementation only hurts the gameplay. Perhaps strangest of all is that few companies have attempted to use the touch-screen for that most obvious of genres, the first-person shooter. Nintendo's own Metroid Prime: Hunters remains the best of the lot, and the few other attempts have been lackluster to just plain bad. With Moon, developer Renegade Kid seems to be well on its way to bringing at least one more fun FPS to the Nintendo DS.
The plot of Moon is not overly complex, and it provides a fairly basic framework for why your space marine is blowing the crap out of various robots. A group of scientists on the Moon have discovered a mysterious hatch located on the surface. After it is accidentally opened, the hatch reveals a teleporter that leads to an underground complex, which is obviously of alien origin. You must take your brave space marine into the depths of the hatch to discover what is going on, who built it, and why they're not there now. Unfortunately for your marine, however, the Moon's self-defense systems have activated, and the underground complex is full of hostile robots.
The controls in Moon are butter-smooth and easily among the best FPS controls I've ever seen on the DS. That may sound like faint praise, but they really do work perfectly. You use the d-pad (or face buttons, if you're a lefty) to move around and to strafe, and the touch-screen and your stylus are used to aim and turn, with either the left or right trigger button controlling the firing. That's really all you need to know, and the controls shouldn't take more than a few moments to learn. Even switching and reloading your weapon is a simple matter of tapping on a button at the bottom of the screen, which pauses the game and opens up a menu that allows you to change your gun. The aiming and shooting was easy as pie, and it only took me a few seconds to get used to the control scheme before hopping in to blow the living daylights out of any robots in my way.
In the preview build of Moon, the collection of weapons was not particularly outlandish. Your default weapon is a Super Assault Rifle, which is fast, weak and has infinite ammo. It works fine against some of the weaker enemies, but before long, you'll want to upgrade to something with a little more firepower. Scattered throughout the various underground areas are alien weapons, which make up the bulk of your firepower and are basically shiny versions of traditional FPS weapons. What we saw included a pistol, machine gun, shotgun and rocket launcher. They were weird and alien-looking, but their general purpose was roughly the same as in most FPSes. Unlike the Super Assault Rifle, however, the other weapons require ammo, so you have to defeat enemies and take the ammo that they've dropped. You can even find upgrades to the weapons to improve their clip size, allowing you to hold more ammo. The most unique weapon as the Alien Probe, which is the first one you discover; it switches your viewpoint to a tiny remote-controlled robot armed with an EMP cannon. This probe isn't much of a weapon, but you can guide it through small gaps to open doors or get items.
In addition to your regular weapons, the only other tool we saw in our preview build was the Lunar Rover, which functions much like the Warthog in Halo. It's really the ideal way to traverse the lunar surface when you need to leave the hatch. The controls are slightly different, with the d-pad driving forward and turning, and the touch-screen aiming and controlling the rover's built-in turret. You can enter or exit the rover at will, but there is very little reason, at least from what I saw, to give up its safety and power until you absolutely must. There are occasions when you may want to hop out, such as when fighting a particularly zippy enemy or when there is an alcove or secret you want to explore. Unfortunately, the rover is far too large to go into the hatch portals, so your underground adventures will be made entirely on foot.
For a Nintendo DS game, Moon is a shockingly excellent-looking title. The environments are curiously detailed, and while they're certainly not mind-blowing, they work quite well. A major problem that plagues most DS shooters doesn't exist here, as it is very easy to recognize everything in the game. A lot of DS shooters have a mass of blurry pixels flying around blurry environments, and it can be difficult, if not impossible, to identify everything. Moon fixes that problem quite handily, and there was never a moment when I couldn't recognize the item that I was picking up or shooting at. Only four levels were available in the preview build, three of which involved exploring one of the hatches, but there were plenty of hints about more varied environments coming to the game at a later time.
On the surface, Moon may seem to be a rather generic first-person shooter, but upon closer inspection, it happens to be a good first-person shooter that takes full advantage of the system's design to make a solid game. Nintendo DS owners looking for a solid FPS don't have very many choices, but Moon will, at least, give them something to replace the aging Metroid Prime: Hunters.
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