Fast action, bloody kills, a throbbing soundtrack, and a CRT filter make Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider a fantastic throwback to retro games.
- Title: Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider
- Release Date: January 12, 2023
- Price: $16.99
- Suggested Audience Age: Rated T for Teen by the ESRB
- Availability: Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, Steam, Luna
- Recommended for fans of: Retro Action, Over the top action, and Robocop
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a flat-out, zero-frills throwback to 16-bit action platformers. It caught my eye thanks to the chunky sprite of some sort of samurai cyborg super soldier, and as soon as I started playing it I got sucked in by its chunky, fast-paced combat.
Fortunately, unlike so many of the games it's based on, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider manages to also be an extremely playable game, that manages to be difficult and surmountable at the same time.
In a World…
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider‘s plot is just as much a throwback to 90s media as its visuals. The game opens up with flashes of different programs on a CRT TV, and then settles on a news report about police “apprehending” protestors by firing machine guns indiscriminately into the crowd. Your character is some sort of super-soldier-cyborg-samurai who wakes up – both literally and metaphorically – and starts fighting back against the state.
After an optional tutorial and opening level, the game opens up and allows you to visit six different levels in any order you want. Each level is filled with platforming challenges like moving platforms, pits of death, and massive lasers, along with lots and lots of enemies. You'll fight robotic sentries, armed soldiers, and deformed mutations, and they all explode in very satisfying bursts of bits and gore.
At the end of each stage is a different robot master. There's a brief cutscene where they fill you in on the lore of the world and your character's personal history, then you jump straight into a big battle against their patterned attacks. These feel perfectly old school, in that you will probably die until you learn their tells, and then the fights are a breeze. Naturally, once you beat a boss you unlock their special weapon to use on future stages.
Gotta Have that CRT
I really like Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider. It feels great to play, and the visual and audio design both absolutely nail the retro aesthetic. The sprite work is great, especially in terms of cityscapes in the backgrounds of some levels and on massive, screen-filling bosses. There's a screenshake effect that makes impacts feel really good, and a CRT filter that you should turn on immediately after you boot up the game. Honestly, I'm shocked it's not enabled by default.
The soundtrack in Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is also exceptional. It's percussive in a way that constantly heightens the action, and melds wonderfully with the visceral sound of the sword that serves as your primary attack.
Upgrades and Checkpoints
As you explore the levels in Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider, you'll find upgrades hidden away in out-of-the-way corners. Each of these augments your gameplay in some way, but you can only have two equipped at a time. Mixing and matching different upgrades lets you change the moment-to-moment feel of the game, or make things drastically different. I found myself leaning towards an upgrade that gave me a double jump mixed with either a defense or offensive boost. If you're hardcore, however, you can equip the Glass Cannon chip in order to increase your attack at the expense of dying in just one hit.
Thankfully, dying doesn't feel terribly punishing in Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider. I never felt like I was set more than a few minutes back by dying, as the game seems to have a really generous checkpointing system. This does bring the idea of “lives” back, which I honestly wouldn't mind if every video game forgot about for the rest of time, but even losing all your lives to get a game over doesn't necessarily set you back to the start. I think all of the levels I've seen so far have had a mid-boss that serves as a checkpoint even for a game over state, and I think the checkpoint right before the final boss of a level does the same.
It can be tough for a retro platformer to stand out these days, but Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider hits nostalgic beats perfectly, while also having just enough accommodations for modern players. I'm about halfway through the game so far, and while I've come across plenty of challenging sections, I've never felt like the game was unfair and I've never been dishearteningly frustrated by failure. I don't think this game leans towards modern accommodations enough to necessarily pull in folks who didn't grow up on games that look and feel like this, but for those who did this feels like finding a cartridge you've never seen before at a flea market.