A fantastic neo-retro action platformer with all the 16-bit goodness of the 90s

A fantastic neo-retro action platformer with all the 16-bit goodness of the 90s

Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is a truly fascinating title, to say the least. While I had little to no expectations for the cyberpunk-esque, sci-fi retro side-scroller, the offering tapped directly into my nostalgia for games like Contra on the NES, which is something I never thought I’d get to experience from a title like coming out in 2023.

From the action-packed gameplay to the super-energetic synthwave soundtrack, Vengeful Guardian Moonrider was a joy to play from start to finish, although there were a few issues that interfered with my enjoyment of the title from time to time. Developer JoyMasher is known for making some really fun retro arcade games – like Blazing Chrome – that take direct inspiration from some of the iconic action side-scrollers of the 90s. Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is no different, and is actually far superior and more fun than the developer’s previous titles.

I had a great time working my way through the game’s many different levels, which were filled with some really difficult platforming segments, including a number of challenging yet satisfying boss battles. However, the game is nowhere near perfect, with some glaring flaws in the level design as well as the moment-to-moment gameplay.

Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is an excellent tribute to the retro 16-bit arcade games of the 90s

Vengeful Guardian Moonrider, much like its name, is very metal in its gameplay as well as its overall aesthetic, which I really liked. The neo-cyberpunk and retro-futuristic art style made for an authentic classic arcade experience, something I rarely see emulated this well in most modern video games.

I grew up playing games on the NES, with games like Battle City and Contra being my personal favorites. While I diverged into more mainstream video games as the years went by, I always loved the retro arcade titles that were a huge part of my childhood.

Immaculate presentation, combined with a fantastic retro arcade soundtrack

In terms of presentation, Vengeful Guardian Moonrider feels very early 90s, with a bombastic opening that introduces players to the game’s action and, wasting no time, unleashes them into the shoes of the titular cybernetic super-soldier, Moonrider. The level design is very reminiscent of titles like Contra and the classic Castlevania games, with tightly knit platforming sections combined with careful enemy placement.

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The visuals are drenched in the classic 16-bit visual style (Image via JoyMasher)
The visuals are drenched in the classic 16-bit visual style (Image via JoyMasher)

Vengeful Guardian Moonrider’s art style is directly inspired by the likes of classic 2D side scrollers, with some really detailed level geometry and characters. I was really impressed with the neo-futuristic aesthetic and level design, which is very similar to Contra III: The Alien Wars for the SNES.

If gamers are looking for an even more authentic 16-bit retro arcade experience, this title has them covered with a dedicated “CRT Effect” switch that emulates the display effects of an old CRT TV. I loved this addon and kept it on throughout the playthrough. I really appreciate it when developers include little optional switches like these to give players more ways to customize their gaming experience.

Even the cutscenes are structured in the same way as the classic action platformers of the 90s (Image via JoyMasher)
Even the cutscenes are structured in the same way as the classic action platformers of the 90s (Image via JoyMasher)

Like the visual aesthetic, JoyMasher used some really catchy sythwave soundtracks as background scores, which adds a lot to the overall enjoyment of the game. While the cheese is nothing exceptional, it perfectly complements the high-octane gameplay and retro visuals of Vengeful Guardian Moonrider.

Action packed gameplay that kept me on the edge of my seat

The game doesn’t have much of a story aside from a vague opening that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Within the first minute of starting a new save, players gain control of Moonrider, who, much like other super-soldier protagonists in games, is awakened from hibernation to serve his masters. However, this character rebels against his creators and goes on a rampage against them and other super soldiers.

The opening reminded me of one of my personal favorite series, id Software’s Doom, which shares a similar premise.

As soon as players gain control of the Moonrider, they can start hacking and slashing their way through the levels. Despite its aesthetic similarity to Contra, Vengeful Guardian Moonrider plays more like a Castlevania game with an emphasis on platforming and melee combat.

Right off the bat, players are equipped with an energy sword as their primary weapon, slicing through enemies with ease. Along with it, the Moonrider is also equipped with a blaster that can be expanded with different firing modules. Although the levels are fairly linear, they contain a few hidden secrets and collectibles for avid players to find, giving them special abilities to use during battle.

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There are some really creative boss fights (Image via JoyMasher)
There are some really creative boss fights (Image via JoyMasher)

Players can find secret “chips” scattered throughout the levels, which can be used to enhance the secondary weapon’s attack. Clearing levels that end with a big boss fight also rewards players with a new special power-up or weapon. I really appreciated this feature, which gave me an extra incentive to replay levels.

The levels in Vengeful Guardian Moonrider are quite different, much like the games it aims to emulate. From the standard shoot ’em up to on-rail shooting sections, the title constantly kept me on my toes, with its diverse level design and high-octane gameplay.

While the game really impressed me with its retro aesthetic, action-packed gameplay, and immaculate level design, there were quite a few frustrating moments that interrupted my enjoyment of the experience.

Few are missing

While Vengeful Guardian Moonrider plays pretty well when using a controller; it’s a completely different story if players want to use a keyboard and mouse instead. I started playing the title with KB+M, but was somewhat forced to switch to a controller as playing the game on the keyboard felt very boring.

The attack animations, while really flashy, can feel clumsy to execute (Image via JoyMasher)
The attack animations, while really flashy, can feel clumsy to execute (Image via JoyMasher)

There were several instances during gameplay when I was required to press certain button combinations to either defeat a boss or clear a platform section. However, due to the default keyboard mapping, I was unable to chain the presses in time, resulting in a “game over” screen. Granted, players can rebind keys in the options menu, but I feel the game is much more fun when using a controller. This isn’t surprising, considering the titles it’s trying to emulate were primarily for consoles.

Another issue somewhat related to the controls – which sadly wasn’t resolved with the use of a controller – was the stiffness of certain actions, particularly the platforming properties of the Moonrider. Performing the “sprint and jump”, which is one of the main actions, felt very clumsy and difficult. In fact, many of the sprint-based elements – like jumping or attacking – felt very stiff and clunky, due to what I felt was an animation lag between two actions.

The titular super soldier, Moonrider (Image via JoyMasher)
The titular super soldier, Moonrider (Image via JoyMasher)

Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is a very short game. My first playthrough clocked in at around two hours, which included dying multiple times to bosses and having to restart entire levels. The game lacks content if players aren’t interested in replaying levels to hunt for collectibles and secrets.

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Finally, in terms of performance, the Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is pretty solid across the board. I tested the game on two systems, the first with a Core i5 8700K, 16 GB RAM and GTX 1650 Super and the second with a Core i5 7200U, 16 GB RAM and GeForce 940MX. On both systems, the game ran flawlessly, with a solid 60 FPS at 1920×1080 resolution.

Platforming in the game can feel like a chore due to stiff controls (Image via JoyMasher)
Platforming in the game can feel like a chore due to stiff controls (Image via JoyMasher)

The performance is not surprising given the very low system requirements of the game; but it’s still quite overwhelming to see a modern release come out with such a degree of polish. However, I encountered a few bugs during my time with the game. The most annoying and recurring one involved the game constantly freezing when I pressed Alt+Tab. I had to restart the game every time I had to use these keys at the same time to check something else on my PC, which was very frustrating.

There were also instances of the title crashing after I completed a mission. But this was very rare and only happened twice during my first playthrough. Overall, Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is a pretty decent PC port that performs admirably on a variety of system configurations.

To conclude

Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is an excellent tribute to the old NES and SNES classics, with a captivating retro art style and action-packed gameplay very similar to the games of the early 90s. The varied level design and tight platforming mechanics, combined with some really challenging boss fights and a very rewarding progression system, keep the offering fresh and very entertaining from start to finish.

While the game does have some issues regarding controls and general clumsy movement abilities, in the face of everything it gets right, these are nothing more than very minor blemishes. Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is an excellent retro arcade side-scroller that fans of retro games, or action games in general, should not miss.

The scorecard (Image via Sportskeeda)
The scorecard (Image via Sportskeeda)

Reviewed on: Windows PC (review copy provided by The Arcade Crew)

Platform(s): Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Amazon Luna (in select territories)

Developer(s): JoyMasher

Publisher(s): The Arcade Crew

Release date: 12 January 2023

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Edited by Soumyadyuti Ghosh

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