Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Renegade Kid
Release Date: January 13, 2009
There's no denying it anymore: Retro is in. People are gobbling up retreads of their old favorites like Mega Man, Bionic Commando and Super Street Fighter II like it's an old-school gamers' Thanksgiving feast. However, Moon for the Nintendo DS manages to bring back nostalgic joy without relying on a classic franchise title or cheesy 8-bit graphics.
Moon is Renegade Kid's second first-person shooter for the DS, and it's one of the very few games to pull off the genre well on a handheld system. It doesn't do much to define itself as a unique shooter, but the novelty of a decent shooting game on Nintendo's handheld is more than enough to put it on a pedestal. The real joy is in the clean and simple level design and the smooth action that's incorporated throughout the title.
The learning curve is perfection itself; it gets you used to the controls with a lengthy segment of calm and then thrusts you into the action as the moon base you've come to investigate is thrown into chaos. You're then forced underground to explore the unknown layers of the moon. You fill the shoes of Major Kane, extraterrestrial investigator of the future and hardened combat veteran. Your only support comes in the form of little Metal Gear Solid-style Codec calls from your friend and adviser, Tsuke. Other than these infrequent communications, you're completely alone on the moon — except for the robotic drones that have been ordered to kill you.
The sense of isolation is palpable from the moment you descend into the first underground level, where you begin to uncover the terrible secrets left behind by an alien species. The team Kane brought in with him has been scattered and broken, and while you spend your time searching for them, you never get the sense that help is on the way. It's just you and your arsenal inside the alien base, and that feels fine. From start to finish, it's strongly reminiscent of the original Doom in a way that Doom 3 never was, proving that you don't need a remake to let gamers re-experience the joy of a classic.
Unfortunately, the graphics department would've benefitted from a closer recreation of Doom. The environments, while laid out well, are quite boring, and the same goes for the enemies. The same gray walls and the same fluorescent lighting permeate every area you encounter, except for the three times the gameplay is broken up by a romp across the lunar surface. The overlay used for the remote-controlled miniature rover that you use to collect alien artifacts and disable shields is about the most visually daring thing done with the title, but since every tunnel that the unmanned vehicle uses looks identical, that seems a bit wasted. Guess the alien architects didn't care too much about how their facilities looked.
They didn't seem to care about their weapons, either, as they just left them lying around a fully automated facility for anyone to pick up. Starting with the Remote Access Droid and the Muon Pistol, your arsenal slowly grows until you have a total of eight weapons at your disposal. You'll never run out of ammo for your starting weapon, the Super Assault Rifle, but it's exceptionally weak and is pretty much useless after you get the third or fourth weapon. The ammo limitations can be a bit excruciating, especially on higher difficulties and against bosses, but they're definitely necessary. The ammo limitations and lack of respawning ammo supplies mean that you need to be a good shot, and fortunately, the touch-screen aim is just sensitive enough to make this a non-issue. By the second set of subterranean (sub-lunar?) caverns, you'll already be leading your shots like a pro, thanks again to the well-paced difficulty curve.
The cut scenes are used sparingly between the opening and conclusion, and they're heavily recycled. This isn't surprising, since you'll be doing the same things over and over again for the story's 17 available missions. You'll see a grainy, uninteresting video of your spacesuit-wearing character going down an elevator at least five times, and you'll get to walk into a boss room and see the enemy for a good 10 seconds before shooting the heck out of him and moving on. It makes you wonder why they'd bother with cut scenes at all when they look just as bad, if not worse, than the actual game. The voice acting also only rears its head for the introduction and conclusion of the game.
The boss battles are just as repetitive and poorly implemented as the cut scenes that precede them. While some of them present a challenge (particularly in the finale), they're mostly just chances to lose prodigious amounts of ammo and save your game between missions. There are really only three boss types, and there's one unique boss who's never repeated. You'll have to face a stationary enemy who can rotate to track you around the square room and hurl a billion tiny energy balls at you, the rolling sphere-bot with a vulnerable faceplate, and a flying menace that'll blast at and chase you from one corner to another. The only way any of these fights increase in difficulty is by making you deactivate some shields occasionally or fight a few more drones at the same time. There's also one segment where your Remote Access Droid gets to do some damage and take down a stationary boss. Oh, and I guess you might also count the glowing energy cores that chuck bombs at you while you shoot. The most fun encounters in Moon came from exploring the map and happening upon a room chock-full of generic enemies. The bosses serve the purpose of breaking up the action and ending the level, but they should have done more.
Still, the list of complaints about Moon is small when you look at the list of positives. The simple controls are only marred by a bit of a clumsy reloading mechanism. The sound effects and graphics are pretty shoddy, but not terribly noticeable. There's nothing here to break the experience, and the multiple difficulty levels and mission mode give a considerable boost to the replayability. The training missions that can be unlocked by finding all of the alien artifacts in the levels are a decent challenge for people who are looking to isolate the combat from the exploration segment of the game. This helps the title make up for the lack of any multiplayer. The driving levels are clumsy, but there are really only two of those, and they're brief. All the (lunar) bases are covered in Moon, and as an added bonus for reviewers, it opens up a whole realm of punny possibilities. Moon is easily the most fun I've had on the DS in over a year.
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