Jump into a past that never was with the new retro game Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider

Jump into a past that never was with the new retro game Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider

The unfortunate thing about the impeccably named Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is that it never quite reaches the dizzying heights of its audacious name. Moonrider is, to be perfectly clear, a great little game with a clear sense of style and a vision it follows through to the end. That ending, however, is just something completely familiar and pedestrian, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t flashes of brilliance scattered throughout.

Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is an inspired tribute to old side scrollers. In particular, it seems to fly ahead of the greatness of classic Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man. The former gives it an aesthetic and tone, while the latter gives the game its structure and mechanics. Fortunately for anyone unfamiliar with how difficult these games used to be, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is decidedly more accessible than either of those, or other modern tributes like the 2020s Cyber ​​Shadow. The thing is Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider aims so little above being these games that it rarely feels like it accomplishes much more than honoring the past.

The history about Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider unfolds in exceptional retro violence over the course of eight stages. The Moonrider is a rogue entity that breaks away from the cause they were constructed to fight for and begins wreaking havoc on the robot mast – um, I mean other Guardians, who maintain a vague form of totalitarian regime. To do so, you must deftly platform and hack n’ slash your way through them and their robot armies. Obviously some details are their own, but Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider sticks pretty close to proven formulas in its world building. It’s inoffensive, but because it’s so familiar, it just became noise that I put out.

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In action, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is admittedly more exciting. Despite looking like Alphonse from Full metal alchemist, Moonrider has moves! You are, after all, some kind of cybernetic ninja, which means you can jump (even double jump!) and divekick enemies from the air, and you can jump great lengths. You’ll bounce grenades back at turrets, jump over shielded enemies to get them from behind, and scour levels looking for upgrades in very familiar tanks. These upgrades can be equipped two at a time, which I found can lead to an interesting bit of push when players are considering what might work best for an upcoming level. However, due to the relative ease of the game, I think I only switched skills once to reduce incoming damage, which felt oversized throughout my time with Moonrider. Bosses that you kill will drop new abilities that drain an MP bar right next to your health, though disappointingly they don’t change your color pattern. Very little of what you find here is unexpected, but I think Moonrider deserves a shout out for deftly handling the influences to make the skirt overwhelmingly simple and predictable. The combat lands satisfyingly and enemies are either blown up or cut to pieces quite elegantly. Platforming seems like an afterthought at times, with few segments standing out, but what there is is at least functional and never holds the player back.

Which I really appreciate Vengeful Guardian: Moonriderits deviations, and where it seems to come more or less into its own are its stages and their direction. Each level has several stages, usually broken up by occasional mini-bosses, but the best of these stages evolve dynamically in these transitions. One of them, called Iwondonilo City, starts out as a 3D level where you zoom down a long highway on your cool motorbike blasting enemies off the road or out of the sky before turning into a traditional 2D level on top of trucks where you need to duck and avoid signs. Another highlight has you balancing taking out foot soldiers in a forest while an air unit in the game’s background takes aim at you, forcing you to consider how to use the stage as cover without standing completely still. It’s unfortunate that not all levels reach these heights, but those that do show the promise of a more fleshed-out vision for this game.

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In so many areas I feel the game Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider could have been. It is not as easy as simply detaching from the influences. In fact, in some ways, it can actually bear to hew closer to them, especially when it comes to exploration and difficulty. But taken as it is, Vengeful Guardian is an accessible, stylish retro platformer that I can see a lot of people falling for when they give it a shot, and I encourage anyone curious enough to do so. I think, much like myself, you’ll find a surprising amount to appreciate here, even if you want more.

Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is developed by JoyMasher and published by The Arcade Crew and DotEmu. Our review is based on the PC version. It is also available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch.

Moises Taveras is the assistant games editor for Paste magazine. He was the one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how it turned out.

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