A Throwback to a classic!
Over the last decade or so, retro style games have made a massive comeback. All you need to do is look at the popularity of games like Stardew Valley, Hotline Miami and of course – Sonic Mania. Most of these games may have not have worked on actual older hardware, but having the extra power being on modern hardware allows these games to make the most of the minimalist affair, and Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a perfect example of doing more with less, imitating popular games of yesteryear such as Megaman, Contra and most notably Shinobi. I played Shinobi on my Mega Drive as a kid and I loved it, despite being aggressively difficult. I loved the art style, the music and the punchy sound design. Upon my first 10 minutes into Moonrider the inspirations were obvious, this is a perfect homage to the violent wacky action games of the Mega Drive era.
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider (which I will simply call ‘Moonrider’ in this review) is a side scrolling arcade action game where you play the role of the cyborg ninja who escapes from his cell and fights back against his masters who he starts to realise are the ones who villains, which off the bat screams 80s/90s cyberpunk future aesthetic that the era was known for. A human turned cyborg who turns on his masters for the the greater good is literally the plot of Robocop. His design all over is that classic idea of taking a Bushido warrior, coating it with metal armor and futuristic weapons, and call it a day. It’s simple, yet massively effective in helping with the games overall design. On that note the game looks fantastic, the oppressive metal structures, the obscure enemies from flying laser skulls to lesser cyborgs and the depressive colour palette all blends to create that gritty feel of a broken future. Sprite work is highly detailed, when in games or during the transitional screens where we get a better look at the Cyborg himself. Then of course there’s the bosses who have that disturbing design idea of “Robots that bleed” which itself just shows how well the designers have captured this dark future.
As previously mentioned a lot of these retro style games use the modern hardware to make the games they couldn’t in the past. Shinobi was a great game, but due to hardware limitations it was slow at times, difficult to react and lacked high paced action. Moonrider takes full advantage at the hardware at it’s disposal and makes for great gameplay. Running, slashing, jumping to avoid all the projectiles thrown at you, wall jumping – it’s all done with so much ease and fluidity that I feel bad for the Mega Drive games it imitates because this is exactly how they wanted to be. It’s got that challenge where you can feel yourself getting better the more you play and this is no more evident than the bosses themselves. First time around you may be totally destroyed but after a few attempts you learn the attacks, movements, what you can and can’t avoid and by the third time you really feel in control of the situation down to it’s tight responsive controls and simple mechanics that doesn’t overwhelm you. There are a few upgrades to find that give you buffs and different special effects, although these aren’t required to progress. This can be seen either way as some people just want the action with none of the faffing about, while some might prefer a bit more customisation for their cyborg ninja.
I will always be on the side that the Mega Drive had a far superior soundchip to that of its competition, the theme song of Streets of Rage been an all time favourite. It was known for it’s energetic songs that made great use of the synths and modulators, and of course Moonrider has much more at its disposal (again, with better hardware) but the effects and music took me straight back to that era of doing more with less, but also incorporating a lot of modern (sorta) elements into their soundtracks. Over the last few years there has been a huge revival in 80s design and aesthetic, and with that came music genres like Synthwave, Darkwave and Vaporwave, all taking inspiration from 80s/90s music. Because of Moonriders general design it was of course also going to take that more recent Synthwave explosion into it’s soundtrack, while still retaining the punchy hard hitting retro sounds of time before. It’s energetic music, great effects and fast paced action all tie together to create that explosive sci fi action feel.
Moonrider is a game that is built upon what made games of the Mega Drive era so great. In the same way Brutal Doom was the violent blood filled gore explosion that the original Doom wanted to be but couldn’t due to hardware constraints at the time, Moonrider is the explosive fast paced cyberborg warrior action game that Shinobi wanted to be. It fully encapsulates what made those games so great while making it more accessible and less punishing due to it’s tight controls and mastering of the games. Unfortunately the game could be considered quite short as most levels cane be completed pretty quickly and even with replaying to find upgrades, you could probably complete Moonrider pretty quickly. But what you will play is great fun, with great sound, controls and graphics, you won’t be bothered about the length at all, as at times I think we could all do with a game that lets us blast out as a cyborg ninja, and I’m totally here for it.
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a sequel to what made the Mega Drive one of the best consoles of all time, and it’s an absolute must for anyone who owned Segas best selling console.