Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider
When it comes to most 2D action platformers, many have taken the Metroidvania approach. Metroid and Castlevania both cemented the formula for fun and engaging gameplay, bound by exploration and clever bosses that bars a player's path. Another form of action-platformer that found success during the same time period was the Mega Man-style gameplay. The fast, frantic, and precise platforming combined with mobs of enemies and a spectacular boss fight at the end of each level doesn't always get its shine in the spotlight. When a game like Vengeful Guardian Moonrider comes around and does the formula justice, it becomes a rare treat that fans would want more of.
Developed by JoyMasher, one of the programmers who worked on the game had also created Dandy & Randy DX. In that review, I considered it a quaint and enjoyable Zelda-like that includes enough of its own charm to make it unique. Vengeful Guardian Moonrider also bears an identity of its own, with the titular character looking like a mix between Silver Samurai and Shredder. Moonrider is a super soldier cyber samurai ninja who was created to be used as a living weapon. Having a conscience, Moonrider intends to save the world from others like him as well as restore the natural balance of order.
It's not too different from X and Zero hunting mavericks to restore balance to their own world, despite being similar beings themselves. Much like MMX, the game begins with a tutorial level complete with the very first boss of the game meant to test the player's skills. The controls for Moonrider is similar as well, but there are some key differences. Wall jumping requires Moonrider to be in between an adjacent wall, thereby wall-kicking off each wall. Another key difference is that Moonrider doesn't come equipped with a long-range weapon by default.
His Moonspear is a mid-range weapon that deals considerable damage and his dash attack instantly kills most enemies. This is where I'd compare the gameplay more to Strider as Strider Hiryu's main weapon is a sword that slices fast. Combined with his agility, he can handle ranged opponents with ease, and with enough practice, the player can do the same in Moonrider. Hidden within each stage are augment chips that give Moonrider beneficial upgrades. Some chips recover their weapon energy, or mp, over a certain time. Others can detect hidden rooms and even restore their health on enemy kill.
What I found amusing was that upon getting a game over, the game hands you its version of "Easy Mode" in the form of a chip. Equipping this chip will lessen the amount of damage Moonrider receives but the highest rating a player can receive is a "B." Developers, take note. If you're going to give players a way to make a game easier, this is the way to go about it instead of mocking the player. Once the player grows accustomed to boss patterns and platforming, the player can always retry past stages without the armor chip.
The first boss for example seems imposing; a giant eldritch abomination cyborg with a floating head and two hands. Having played similar titles, I already knew that the hands were going to do something but it took me a few deaths to realize that there were several safe zones during the fight. Standing directly in the middle of the boss ensures the bullets will never hit Moonrider. Baiting the head to fire a laser beam only to jump in the opposite direction and attack was also a strategy.
Earlier on in the level, there's a defense turret that the player is locked in the room with and a breakable door that is ineffective against Moonrider's attacks. You could fight the turret, sure, but it's far easier and faster to bait the turret to attack the door. Doing so progresses the level and the less time the player fights, the more health they'll have by the boss fight. In Vengful Guardian Moon Rider, it's far convenient to pick your fights as there's little to gain from defeating enemies. Upgrade chips are hidden in rooms while HP and MP restoratives are obtained from breaking crates.
One of my favorite levels in the game was Iwondonilo City, an urban level that exceeded my expectations. At first I assumed the level would include Moonrider leaping across rooftops, as one expects from a Strider level. Instead, we get an "on-rails" shooter section on a hoverbike that has been a fun section for many indie titles. Just when the player gets comfortable, the second part of the level has the player jump across cars via a highway. Again, a similar spot was played during a level in Mega Man X4 against Grizzly Slash (or Crescent Grizzly).
The boss fight isn't a grizzly bear this time, but a soldier just like Moonrider who somehow managed to outrun the train that Moonrider was on. With that in mind, it gives the player a hint that the boss will use his quickness to his advantage. That's another thing I can give praise to this game for, as many bosses intros show the player what to expect. After defeating a boss, Moonrider is given a new ability, from an invincible dash, a shuriken, and many others. Certain bosses require weapons from other bosses to ensure players have a far easier time in defeating them, but it takes nothing away from the impressive stage design.
As expected, Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is a short game, consisting of seven levels including a finale similar to that of a "Dr. Wiley" stage. It can all be cleared in around three hours, providing the player isn't dying often in which case it may be a tad bit longer. Regardless, dying isn't too much of a big deal; The player will begin the level again but by this time they will know the best route to get to the boss again.
Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is a title that will scratch the Mega Man X itch for many players who want to leave their enemies in a bloody mess. The graphic options are spot-on, with one of the best CRT modes I've seen in a retro-inspired game. Players who wish to enjoy a challenging, rewarding, and honestly cool cyborg ninja slaying title will find hours of replayability here.
Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, and Sony PlayStation 4. This review was made possible thanks to the publisher for providing us a copy.