Moon Diver Review
Developer: feelplus / Publisher: Square Enix / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price: $14.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Fantasy Violence)
Gamers with more than a decade of experience under their belts tend to start bellyaching about the good ol’ days of gaming. Well, all of you old school enthusiasts have a chance to put your aged devotion to the test with Moon Diver. The game is an old-school beat ‘em up that does a fantastic job educating you on just how far games have come. Sadly enough, that ends up being its greatest virtue.
Strider creator Koichi Yotsui directed Moon Diver, which is important to note because this game is basically a multiplayer-enabled Strider. Upon starting, you pick from four reasonably different characters and slash your way through piles of robot dudes populating expansive levels. Killing earns you levels, which expands your attack combo and allows you to drop stat points in HP, MP (which you consume to perform special attacks), and attack power.
And that’s the end to the game’s complexity, which would be fine but for a host of annoying issues that prevent the game from really clicking together as an awesome retro experience. First, the game’s difficulty isn’t balanced well at all. Earlier levels are so easy they’re boring, and later levels are so hectic that you need some cocaine in your system to cope. Adding more players to the mix both helps and hinders this. You compete with other players for kills and experience, meaning if you’re not in the lead killing everything you can, you’ll be level retarded later on. Additionally, players can potentially dick each other over completely. One boss drops down rocks that you need to stand on to avoid a giant laser. If a player is hit by this rock, it shatters, meaning players can stand in the wrong spot and doom everyone instantly.
The leveling system is busted as well. The four characters accrue experience and progression individually, meaning that if you want to try out another character, you’re forced to replay from the first level with a character that can’t do much aside from the basic attack. Most people pick the default character when they start, which means when they go online, they can choose between being a useless level one character or the default guy who is already leveled. Unsurprisingly, game lobbies are full of the default character, which doesn’t help you visually identify yourself if you’re in the same boat. Perhaps most annoyingly, certain special attacks will freeze the screen for a second, seriously disrupting your dude-killing groove just to show another player activating some ridiculous super slash move.
There’s a grocery list of other annoyances with the game as well. Enemies don’t telegraph their attacks adequately, meaning most of the damage you take will just pop out of nowhere. If you accidentally pick the wrong character on the selection screen, you have to back all the way out to the main menu to pick again. In a menu driven entirely by the X and O buttons, the Triangle button sets special attacks. The list could go on and on, but ultimately it makes Moon Diver feel as awkward as the first time you went to junior high Spanish class with the super hot teacher. Ah Ms. Mendoza, if only Moon Diver did what I imagined you could.
The real shame behind all the above complaints is that Moon Diver controls amazingly well. Like Strider, your character has agility and maneuverability that’s several steps beyond most beat ‘em ups. You can double-jump, stick to walls and ceilings, and dive kick out of the air in several directions. Basically, no matter where an enemy is, you can hit it provided you have the skill to do so. After a few minutes with the controls in Moon Diver, I desperately wished that a better game had been constructed around them.
Graphics and Sound
Sometimes the dumb ones have looks to balance everything out, but Moon Diver isn’t even going home with the Ms. Personality trophy. While the 2.5D look is an improvement over straight up 2D, none of the levels use the third D in any meaningful way. Every level is dominated by purples and reds, meaning they look nearly identical even after the textures have been swapped around. The benefit here is that the vibrant player characters are always visible, though even that can be difficult when the screen is covered with sparkles and explosions.
The game’s sound is downright annoying. You can charge your basic attack, causing your character to scream a little battle cry. If you treat it like a mega buster and charge it all the time (which you have no reason not to, really), you get to hear your character constantly howling. Multiply that times four in a multiplayer game and you’ll reach for the mute button very quickly. There’s also a notification arrow that pops up to tell you which direction to go occasionally. Its inclusion is helpful given how big the levels are, but the grating klaxon that accompanies it is not.
Anyone that is still actively playing (and enjoying) old beat ‘em ups like Strider or Shinobi may have the temperance to enjoy Moon Diver. The controls are some of the tightest I’ve played in a platformer. Unfortunately, the crappy everything-else means that those who spend most of their time in modern games should stay there.
4 / 10