GamingReview: Vengeful Guardian Moonrider

Review: Vengeful Guardian Moonrider


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Vengeful Guardian Moonrider, as you can probably tell from its badass, polysyllabic nonsense name, doesn’t particularly care about story. ‘Good samurai robot go kill bad samurai robots’. That’s the extent of it, which is fine. These types of games don’t need compelling stories, just compelling gameplay loops.

I find there are typically two kinds of retro revival games: ones which seek to revive the general atmosphere or difficulty of those games without directly copying them (Cuphead or Katana Zero), and those which seek to tap the gaming ‘oldheads’ on the shoulder and say “remember this?” while spitting out gameplay and environmental references like nobody’s watching (Bloodstained or Shovel Knight).

Moonrider is definitely in that latter group. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with either style, but they can be screwed up in uniquely different ways. Games like Moonrider can be screwed up if gameplay and design philosophy references are used without taking into account that they may not work alongside all of the other stuff you’ve decided to throw in. And, while still a good game, Moonrider absolutely falls into this trap.

The Style and Sound

Before talking about the gameplay, it’s important to note how wonderful the game’s pixel art can look. In recreating the feel of these sorts of games, often the visuals come up the rear as looking relatively lazy, but Moonrider is beautiful to look at.

The music, while not terribly memorable I thought, is at least in keeping with the 16-bit, 1980s faux-futuristic, ‘everything’s gone to hell so let’s kick ass’ vibe.

Each main stage has between one and three mini-bosses/ mini encounters, as well as a final boss. One detail I really found myself loving was that, before engaging in the actual fight with the stage’s boss, each one would speak in a bit-crushed, nigh inscrutable Japanese voice, presumably saying something injurious about how quickly I’m going to get my ass kicked.

The Stages

Though this initially appears to be a linear, Ninja Gaiden-esque game with a set number of stages and a definitive difficulty curve, it’s actually much more like Mega Man.

After beating the tutorial, you are booted to the stage select screen from where you can then select any of the 6 available stages. As per Mega Man tradition, there are a number of stages which can be beaten in any order that, once beaten, unlock the final stage.

The tutorial takes place in a fairly typical bionics lab, and so I was initially expecting for the first 2/3 levels to be in and around here, but the game has a knack for variety and ensures that every stage feel fairly different. From the rushing wind of leaping across airships, to the concomitant misery of yet another water level, there’s certainly a lot to experience.

The issue with this, as well as the stages being so short, is that it’s very easy to pinpoint the levels, or portions of levels which to you seem boring or poorly designed. For me, it was any time the game had some sections which ground the pace to a halt and forced me to either move with the screen, ride on a lift, ride on a motorcycle, or trudge through water.

There is one stage which is free of all of these problems, a forest stage. In this level, you have to constantly remain moving and on your toes in order to survive. This seems like the epitome of what the game is, but it’s a design which is almost never used again. Every few minutes the game stops you in your tracks and forces you through yet another tedious section.

In every stage there are either 1 or 2 collectibles. These are equippable power up chips which can give you anything from recharging MP to a double jump. These are often placed on opposite sides of branching paths or in tiny alcoves which you need to wall jump up to. There’s nothing wrong with these items as they stand, but once you collect them, there’s absolutely no reason for you to ever look for them again. On subsequent runs, this lack of exploration really highlights how short many of these stages actually are when they aren’t railroading you into a needlessly slow section.

The Gameplay

Moonrider is an action platformer, and it has all of the movement options you would expect therein. You have your standard slash, a run which is activated by either holding a button or double tapping a direction, a running slash which does much more damage than a regular slash but has significant startup to compensate, a wall jump, a dive kick, and an ‘unlockable’ double jump.

All the bones of the game are right, but I do have several issues. For one, the wall jump seems antithetical to the rest of your moveset. You are supposed to be a relentless warrior who is tearing through these levels, but the wall jump feels needlessly slow. This is one of those things that’s very difficult to explain, but it essentially just feels as though you have all the mobility in the world, until you have to touch a wall.

As well as this, the dash is mapped to both a dedicated button as well as a double tap input. The only reason dash/ run was ever mapped to double tap was because older arcade cabinets and controllers just didn’t have enough buttons, but now we evidently have more than we can even use, so why force me to work around the looming specter of an accidental dash when it’s already mapped to a button?

The combat is fine, which is to be expected, as none of the regular enemies are there to pose much of a threat, they are only meant to be threatening in conjunction with the platforming. This is the mill of attrition you have to survive before you reach every boss. All of this is fine.

My main problem with the gameplay comes from the aforementioned problem of unlockable chips. So many sections in this game are made with the express purpose of hiding these upgrades and once found, there’s no reason to explore these sections again. This is all fine, but the problem is that the game has a ranking system.

In every level you get graded from E to S, with the main factor seemingly being speed. I’m not always a fiend for S ranks, but I’ll get them if I can, and these S ranks are entirely superfluous. These rankings indicate that the entire game is built on speed (as getting hit doesn’t reduce your score significantly), but this is something which is ruined by the overwhelming number of slow sections.

On your 1st playthrough you’ll probably just be trying to survive, through you may still explore a little. Then, on your 2nd run of a level you’ll be looking for the upgrades. Finally, on your 3rd run and onward, you’ll be chasing S ranks. This is forced replayability, which is not replayability at all. Why weren’t upgrades just tied to rankings like this: first one unlocked at A rank, second unlocked at S rank. There is no tangible reason to chase these rankings, and many sections of most levels aren’t even built with speed in mind anyway, so I can’t imagine many would chase these for fun if trophies and achievements weren’t tied to them.


Moonrider feels like a nostalgic mish-mash of different ideas, with little care taken as to how each new idea will affect the whole.

This game is very fun on a first playthrough, and fairly dull on any subsequent ones. The game is not open enough to appeal to exploratory players who want to find its secrets, and the game is nowhere near tight enough to appeal to old school arcade players or rank chasers.

There’s almost certainly a plurality of people who fall into the middle somewhere and they’ll almost definitely love the game, but for me, it’s just a fairly good retro platformer; a game-type which I’m quickly becoming tired of.


On a single playthrough, the game is a 7, but quickly drops to a 6 with subsequent runs.

+ Beautiful pixel art
+ Excellent level variety
+ Overall great bosses
+ Satisfying sound design

- Several conflicting ideas and design choices
- Superfluous rank system
- Double mapped run

Reviewed on PS4, also on PS5, Switch, and PC. Available for $16.99
Daniel Kelly
Daniel Kelly
A man forever in search of a game to surpass Metal Gear.

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On a single playthrough, the game is a 7, but quickly drops to a 6 with subsequent runs.<br/><br/> + Beautiful pixel art <br/> + Excellent level variety<br/> + Overall great bosses <br/> + Satisfying sound design<br/><br/> <br /> - Several conflicting ideas and design choices<br/> - Superfluous rank system<br/> - Double mapped run<br/><br/> <br /> Reviewed on PS4, also on PS5, Switch, and PC. Available for $16.99Review: Vengeful Guardian Moonrider