"The marriage of subtle sounds, music that woos the soul, and artwork resembling archaic carvings accentuates the mythological tale of moon and sun."
Moon Hunters may not have the most enticing name when combing through the thousands upon thousands of titles shoveled onto Steam, but Moon Hunters is anything but shovelware. Although it's left Early Access, Moon Hunters is still a work in progress, but not necessarily in terms of the design itself. Kitfox Games' latest title boasts a heavily immersive multiplayer experience, but with port forwarding woes and enduring problems connecting to friends, wide-eyed consumers may find themselves flying solo — to the Steam refund system.
While not incredibly deep, Moon Hunters' story and delivery captures the imagination with an authentic sense of place. The marriage of subtle sounds, music that woos the soul, and artwork resembling archaic carvings accentuates the mythological tale of moon and sun. Playing as one of six classes, players dip into the story with each 45 minute to one hour excursion. Upon reaching a village, the protagonists find that a ceremony fails, causing panic and sorrow amongst the tribal populace. Soon after, a cult leader threatens the adventurers, putting them on a three-day timer before they meet their undoing.
Indeed, the central plot offers novelty not often experienced in modern role-playing titles, even if the depth is lacking. More important than the primary incentive is the journey. Players traverse a large map, hitting destinations that initially appear innocuous. While gallivanting and traipsing across each locale battling critters and errant soldiers, NPCs appear with some problem, request, or promise. Each encounter offers a binary decision. The result doesn't always match expectations, but neither do our decisions in life. These brief interactions put a beat in my step each time I found a bobbing sprite, because not only is the dialogue relatively well-written, the results oftentimes lead to hidden traits or unlockables.
This exploration — the sense of discovery — is what brought me back to Moon Hunters again and again. I keep running into animals I can't talk to. After five playthroughs, I still haven't gained the ability to talk to animals, who surely have insight into the narrative or more secrets, but I did hear about a cat that can teach folks the proper tongue. Hmm. Other such discoveries exist throughout the world. Promises are made, which clearly encourage different decision making. Sometimes caves can't even be entered unless the player earns a trait from a previous interaction. Admittedly, some people will find this process unnecessarily secretive and arduous, and to them I say: maybe this isn't the game for you.
Moon Hunters has a chill vibe with a package that focuses on a hazy recollection of a time passed — a time one might get a glimpse of in the stars as stories are passed on through word of mouth. This is evident throughout the game, and I rarely found myself taken out of the experience. Some have found issue with the short playthroughs, and, yes, each beginning feels similar to the last, but the way those three days play out is almost entirely up to the player. Different starting villages unlock, different characters unlock, and I learned a little more about the game with each finale.
Unfortunately, Moon Hunters doesn't offer much of a tutorial and the core mechanics are left up to the player to discover. This also plays into what Moon Hunters is all about, though — discovery. At times, I felt as if the developers were exceptionally smart about how they crafted this game, and for each gripe I could make, I could also describe how that works as a positive. From a design perspective, Moon Hunter is clearly not meant to make everyone happy. This is a title catered toward a certain kind of gamer, though the combat itself is simple and accessible.
Flowing purely as an action RPG, each character has a core combat mechanic to spam (slash, stab, etc.), special power for offense or support, and movement ability to aid in dodging or getting around. Some characters are a little more complicated, but mum's the word! Admittedly, Moon Hunters is far from challenging, but that's not really what the game is about. Sure, each enemy or group of enemies kept me focused, but little effort was ever required. Stats upgrade at each camp following a location's end and occasionally with NPC encounters which takes a bit of art in balancing each character. New abilities can be bought from random merchants, which only serve to make the game easier as the challenge doesn't scale too much as the player gets more powerful.
Now, I have to caution about something that I alluded to earlier that makes this title difficult to recommend: the multiplayer — or lack thereof. Moon Hunters plays best as a multiplayer experience, but setting up multiplayer requires a trip to the forums. Novices in networking will feel a tinge of frustration, and even after following those steps, the game may not support multiplayer. I spent hours (yes, plural) trying to get multiplayer to work, but I never got it running. After chasing down strangers on the forums, I got a taste of the multiplayer experience, and I really enjoyed it. Is this the kind of experience the developers envisioned? I don't know, because the developers rarely ever responded to the slew of complaints on the forums as people who bought their game sought assistance.
Moon Hunters is a novel, simple experience with a fresh, chill vibe mired in technical issues. I hope this review is out-of-date at some point and readers tilt their heads a bit when they read my fussing over multiplayer, but as Moon Hunters stands now as a purchasable title, I can't recommend it unless the single-player experience sounds enticing. Personally, I'll likely hunt the moon again once the multiplayer is definitively fixed, but until then, I'll watch the stars and remember heroes past.