Making any video game is extremely hard work. But creating a retro-styled experience that feels 100% authentic to the original inspiration adds a whole extra layer of complexity. Implementing pixelated visuals and ending the day just doesn’t solve the problem, but what developer JoyMasher did with Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is truly remarkable. As with previous work with Blazing Chrome, the team has successfully created a 2D action game that looks, sounds and plays like it came straight out of the early 90s, right down to the exceptional environmental detail and enemy design.
Inspired by games like Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master and Strider, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a sci-fi action-platformer where you take on the role of the titular Moonrider, a cybernetic ninja who rejects his destiny as a tool. save the totalitarian state and instead wage war against its creators. Once you’ve completed the introductory level (we also recommend completing the excellent tutorial section), you’ll have a choice of six additional stages that you can complete in any order, followed by two final stages to complete the experience. . Each stage has its own boss character, and defeating each of them will grant you a new ability. Then he is a lot like Mega Man.
Navigating the stages feels fluid and intuitive; Moonrider will walk by default, but holding down “ZR” makes him run, allowing him to perform a fairly powerful attack that can instantly chop down enemies if performed at the right time, resulting in a fountain of pixelated blood that never ages. Otherwise, you can stand still and unleash a series of basic sword attacks, which are usually enough to take out most standard enemies. In addition, you have special attacks that are slightly more powerful, but their availability is limited; each use of your special attack depletes the blue gauge in the top corner, which you will need to replenish with items as you make your way through the environment.
Along with your base moveset, you’ll also gain new abilities as you progress. They can be obtained by defeating boss characters and collecting modifier tokens hidden throughout the levels. They grant skills such as double jump, but also provide more passive enhancements such as enhanced armor and the ability to detect hidden areas in the environment. You can only equip two modifier chips at a time, so choosing which one to use based on your situation is the key to completing levels in the fastest and most efficient way.
It’s a good job, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider also gives you these options because the game not only looks retro in its audiovisual design, but it’s also quite challenging at frequent intervals. We wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s as hard as some of the most famous SNES games (looking at you, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts), but there’s enough here to keep you on your toes, especially if you’re not familiar with 2D action games like Shinobi III. However, it never feels unfair, and the level of difficulty depends entirely on your own ability to master Moonrider skills and learn your enemies’ attack patterns. If you happen to die, you will most likely know exactly where you went wrong and be able to fix it the next time you try.
In terms of visuals, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is simply stunning. The 16-bit pixel art style here is reminiscent of classic side-scrolling games like Castlevania: Bloodlines and has a timeless quality that we can’t put down. There’s plenty of visual variety on offer, including cyberpunk cities, dark underwater passageways, and digital spaces that remind us of Metal Gear Solid’s VR missions. It’s all beautifully executed, although to be picky there’s a “3D” motorcycle section that doesn’t have the same impact as a 2D environment and lacks the detail that would otherwise permeate the experience from start to finish. On the positive side, the CRT filter can be applied at any time, which is one of the most successful applications of the effect we’ve seen in a while.
The same level of care and attention was also given to the music and sound design. Each level boasts a captivating 80s-style soundtrack filled with synth melodies and fast beats that will make your heart race. Sound effects are varied and effective throughout, including the aggressive swing of your sword, the anguished scream of your defeated enemies, and the comforting chirp of first-aid kits. The voice acting is actually very limited in this return, but each enemy boss delivers a short robotic statement in Japanese when you encounter them, giving each character an extra level of depth and effectively building tension before each fight.
One playthrough of Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider will probably take you about 2-3 hours, depending on your willingness to look for additional items and hidden areas. However, with the ability to replay each mission, there is an undeniable desire to beat your previous rank and completion time; The potential for speedruns is great, and we can’t wait to see what crazy feats players can come up with in the coming months. However, if you’re the type of person who beats a game once and moves on to the next, you might find Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider lacking in content a bit.
Ultimately, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is no problem if you’re a fan of old-school 2D action games. Like Blazing Chrome before it, Joymasher has once again proven itself as an exceptionally talented team capable of creating very authentic retro experiences in the modern age. If this had been released in the early 90s, we wouldn’t blink an eye but be dazzled by its brilliance, and it’s a testament to the game’s excellent design.
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is an absolute triumph of neo-retro game design. It boasts smooth combat with a wide variety of environmental and enemy designs, and an art style that looks like it’s shining straight out of the early 90s. While its overall short length may be a stumbling block for some, those looking for an action movie title that not only is a fantastic experience, but also looks genuinely retro, will find this an absolute no-brainer. This is exactly one of the coolest games for kickstart 2023.