Moonlighter is a hybrid rogue-like shopkeeper game from developer Digital Sun and publishers 11 Bit Studios and Merge Games. It is also my latest gaming obsession. Whether in ten minute quick work breaks, or six hour marathon sessions where I forget to hydrate properly, I frigging love this game. The music, the mechanics, the worldbuilding and story, the vibe and look, all of it is highly appealing.
I cannot praise the music in this game highly enough. It’s catchy and pleasant, appropriate for the setting, helps with grander immersion, is genuinely beautiful, and easy to listen to in the background. I don’t actually know all that much about music and the effects it can have on us when engaged with gaming experiences, but whoever made the music for this game clearly does. This team made a fantastic ambient soundtrack. It adds a lot to the overall experience. They even have a little addition to the main town soundtrack for when you’re talking to the blacksmith, of hammer on anvil to the rhythm, and it’s integrated flawlessly. Subheadline in this department is that sound effects also did a great job. Hard not to be overshadowed by that music, but definitely that area deserves a lot of praise as well.
The graphics are pixel, but there’s plenty of movement and vibrancy to the world. I also like their sprites, they crack me up on many occasions.
You start off as a humble shopkeeper slash dungeon diver who keeps being told to ignore those dungeons over thar, just stick to the basic slime and golem dungeon you can farm to make cash in your shop. Just scrape by, your elderly relative demands, claiming wisdom in his assessments. This is honestly an odd way to tell your players what to do, but ignoring that old man and making him feel bad for even telling me not to try is kinda fantastic, as far as gaming experiences go. It’s also an effective but palatable and streamlined tutorial. Highly satisfying now that I’m in the later stages and he just wanders my utopia, confused by my badassery in the dungeons and dazzled by my exquisite shop and several charitable ventures. Take that, you nay-sayer tutorial guy.
The first element the game introduces you to is the rogue-like dungeon diving. Equipped with only a broom that you use in wildly inappropriate manners and an immaculate aikido roll, you go get your ass kicked in a themed dungeon. It’s a blast.
The rogue-like mechanics are solid. Top down dungeons, item loss on death, and a focus on melee combat using different monster types and combos to dictate tactics. Each weapon you use represents a different playstyle, and each has their up and down sides. As does the armor. Both are main points of upgrade for combat, and a rewarding place to spend the money you strive so hard for. It is totally possible to acquire and try them all at the early stages, but your playstyle in the dungeon will likely determine which you choose. The game does not seem to demand big sword users or bow specialists in order to succeed in the dungeons, there’s a nice variety of patterns to fall into. Most of the action revolves around reaction to monster attacks while dealing as much damage as you can. Which is a lot, and can be tons of fun. I personally fell into a great routine with a sword and board, spear, and light armor that kept me mobile. That roll is on point too, a great tool to give the players. You might like a heavy sword and heavy armor, who knows. Potions are handy, but beyond the obligatory health potions, they don’t generally feel super important super often for me. There’s a few different types, but beyond health, they seemed like mostly gimmicks or unrequired aids. Enchantments are pretty straightforward upgrades, and you typically go for them hard as a natural part of your climb to power over the dungeon collection. You dive the dungeon until your pack is full, or you get the boss you wanted, then return to town to engage with the shopkeeping portion of the game. There’s also an inventory management minigame that I kind of fell in love with. Got very good at learning to make the most of my pack and enjoyed the experience.
Shopkeeping is also super fun. The mechanics are simple, and again the pace is manageably high speed. You set your items out, set a price, then pay attention to customer reactions. If they scowl at you angrily, like you’re an overt con man, then you’ve set the price way too high. Mild disgust is for ‘somewhat too high,’ and occasionally they’ll buy it anyway. Chipper resolve is for a reasonable price, and gold lust is for when they can’t believe what a sucker you are. That system helps you find the right price for all the items you come across in the dungeons. Golem cores are worth more than slime or branches, but not worth more than hardened steel bricks or a magic chisel. You tend to find the patterns and discover the prices easily with a modicum of effort, and the game provides a hint device that eats your excess items in the dungeons for a price that is lower than the items worth by a predictable factor. It’s something one can easily navigate while not being good at math, which I appreciate. The shop itself is upgradeable, and all the upgrades are great, except the sale bin which I almost never use. I run a quality operation, we don’t need to resort to sale prices often. It’s great fun and wildly immersive. There’s this event that happens every so often where a bird flies in the store, and everyone just freezes and stares at the bird until it’s captured and put back outside. I find that to be highly accurate, and amusing commentary on human behavior. Most days I run a tight operation, selling the excess from my last run to a variety of customers. I have a system for getting everything I need for upgrades, farming potion and enchantment materials, and furthering my wealth. The game sets you up for success in these ways, and by the time you’re drowning in money and own all the upgrades, the shopkeeper days become comfortably relaxing after the frenzy of combat in the dungeons. Excellent gameplay, and again fantastic immersion.
One of the elements that makes this game shine for me is the progression. As you gain in wealth, power, and renown, so too does your shop and town. The story is told through this element, as well as specific finds in the dungeon, and I enjoy it too much to spoil. Suffice to say that the story is in every pore of this game. It all flows together perfectly and delivers an imaginative narrative experience in a highly palatable manner. I love the way you are meant to put together the worldbuilding from a set of cleverly woven hints and clues you can’t help but notice. The nature of the dungeons is fundamental, and your progression through them propels the narrative. Your scrappy shopkeeper badass is the perfect vehicle as a silent protagonist to experience this with.
The sheer craft on display in this game, from all the elements I mention above, nets it a rare place on my permanent favorites shelf. It’s up there with FTL and Darkest Dungeon for unique, engaging rogue-like experiences. Plus, I kinda love shopkeeper games, and this one knocks both elements out of the park.
Joseph Phelps writes books! Check out his debut novel at
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