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Moo Lander

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: The Sixth Hammer
Release Date: May 27, 2022


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PC Review - 'Moo Lander'

by Cody Medellin on July 22, 2022 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Moo Lander is an action-adventure RPG with Metroidvania elements featuring an epic story about cows and milk.

When you think of games trying to emulate the Metroidvania formula, you tend to think of gaining powers over time and backtracking to use those powers to access previously inaccessible areas. You think of a large bestiary to fight. Most of all, you think of platforming; just about all of the big games in the subgenre have featured creatures shooting, jumping, and slashing. Moo Lander isn't exactly a formulaic Metroidvania, but it offers something good for those willing to give it a chance.

The game has you playing the role of Lander who, along with his AI companion Hamilton, have been sent on a mission to save their species. The war that their people have been in for ages has taken its toll, and resources are dwindling. The last hope is an artifact known as the Ewlvir, which can produce an infinite amount of the most precious energy and food: milk. Using the last interplanetary vessel their people have, Lander and Hamilton go to Mars, the last known location of the artifact, in hopes of finding it and saving their species.

The story and overall tone teeters between serious and a little absurd. The reminders of war and the price paid for it are played up with a straight face, and you can't have any other emotion but sadness when talking about how failure means the species is doomed. However, the idea of milk being an all-powerful substance is still strange. The banter between Lander and Hamilton goes for a dry humor rather than something outlandish; the delivery of each line makes it so that the transition between both moods is surprisingly smooth.

Despite being listed by the developers as a Metroidvania title, Moo Lander does more than a few things to break away from the formula. For starters, you pilot a spacecraft, so there's no platforming. The game still tries to challenge your piloting skills by initially placing you in tight caverns before letting you go free in open fields; other rocky outcrops and vegetation try to hinder your movement, but most areas can easily be reached without much effort. It's freeing and makes things more accessible, as there are no pixel perfect leaps or other movement tricks you need to learn.

The game also ditches one of the hallmarks of the genre: backtracking. You have different pathways to explore, but rarely is there anything special that counts as a bonus for being inquisitive. There are no secret areas, and more often than not, you'll reach an area only to get permanently closed off from where you visited; it's not that disappointing due to the lack of aforementioned secrets. The lack of a world map might seem strange until you realize that the game goes for something more linear, with only sprinklings of exploration to make it vaguely Metroidvania-like.

While pure Metroidvania fans might already be turned off by everything written above, adventure fans will like what the team has done with the rest of the gameplay mechanics. Since you start off with no weapons, most of your early encounters involve physics puzzles, where you use alien lifeforms to open pathways for you. Some involve using the more explosive ones to sacrifice themselves in the name of destroying other plants. Others have you using those same explosive elements to propel boulders to crash into wooden barriers. You'll move vines that can grab rocks to tip scales, and sometimes, you'll need them to block other hazards. The puzzles cover a wide range, from simple tasks to annoying mini-escort missions, but the reliance on brains over brawn for much of the game is welcome.

Once you find the first few tools for your ship, the combat element opens up. Aside from defensive elements like a movable shield, your weapons are split off into lethal and non-lethal variants. You can use things like bombs to stun enemies or use your swords and blasters to kill them outright. They take on a Metroidvania trait in that they respawn, but you don't have to leave the area for them to do that, and while that can seem annoying, you can use that to your advantage. Fallen enemies leave behind elements to give your ship upgrade skins, like those that give you a chance to damage enemies if they touch you. You'll need milk to use any of them, and while you need to be conservative when it comes to choosing your shots, the presence of numerous milk refill stations means that you aren't going to be penalized too much if you keep firing.

If there is one element that might be a turn-off for players, it would be the various cow boss fights. The game gets most of those fights right, as each of the mutated bovines has some unique quirks, like spreading poisonous methane on the ground or dashing to a hiding place when being attacked. The game only allows you to damage them with non-lethal attacks, so that usually means peppering them with milk bombs until their health gets depleted, giving you the chance to abduct them for milk for your home planet and gain some points to give yourself new abilities and weapons. You always have access to health and refill stations, so fights can at least feel fair. Where things fall apart is the fact that every one of the cow bosses possesses a repulsor blast that pushes away both you and your non-lethal attacks, and the wave is so wide and constantly shot that they rarely miss you with their attacks. Fights quickly devolve from being strategic to you bombarding them with milk in hopes that you get lucky and do some damage. This also allows you time to recover and spam bombs again. With so many cows in the game, these fights are ones you'll dread because they lack excitement.

Surprisingly, the game has a multiplayer mode for up to four players, locally split into four different minigames. Survive the Waves is essentially horde mode, as you and three other players take on the role of Lander and blast down wave after wave of enemies, minus the cow boss fights. Cow vs. Lander is a versus mode where one player assumes the role of Lander and the other a cow as they fight one another. Landers vs. AI Cow is similar, except everyone is fighting off the cow together. Galactic Mooball is the more interesting of the modes, as it's a 2v2 match between cows and Landers, akin to what you'd see in Rayman Legends. It is the best of the bunch, considering how odd it is. While everything else is well executed, don't expect to jump in the game specifically for multiplayer more than a handful of times.

The overall presentation in Moo Lander is quite good. The cast is limited, but the voice acting is nice, and the sound effects go for more traditional fare rather than going for something a little more squishy, considering the milk-based weaponry at your disposal. The music is more relaxed sci-fi fare, and it's calm enough to put you in an exploratory mode even though backtracking is severely limited. The soundtrack also doesn't feel out of place when you get into big fights.

Graphically, the game uses a muted color scheme that seems painterly in places, while the designs for the creatures and ships look hand-drawn. The animation for some of these things is a bit like watching a marionette, as you see individual moving parts, rather than something more cohesive. It doesn't ruin the look but it is charming in a way.

In the end, Moo Lander is a solid adventure game that works despite the genre being mislabeled. The placement of more physics puzzles is a welcome one, even if a few can be a little frustrating. Combat is solid enough, provided you know beforehand that the boss fights tend to be a huge pain. The world may not have much in the way of exploration, but it feels anything but sterile, and the tools are quite fun to use. It's an enjoyable game overall and one that adventure fans might be interested in if they wanted something a little different.

Score: 7.0/10

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