You need to play the most hardcore sci-fi platformer ASAP

You need to play the most hardcore sci-fi platformer ASAP

Few people understood how the video game industry itself would change with the shift from 16-bit side scrollers to 32-bit 3D open worlds better than Shigeru Miyamoto. Nintendo’s champion ushered in masterpieces in both formats, of course, with games like Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64. The new world naturally brought new opportunities, but also new challenges. One of the big ones jumped.

“Implementing jumping in 3D is very difficult,” Miyamoto admitted in a 1996 interview. “In previous Mario games, we were able to measure the number of pixels Mario could jump and know exactly what was possible,” which had to be changed for the new world, much to the frustration of the development team, who bowed the decision to make jumps “close enough.”

Jumping was a huge part of the 16-bit world, often playing a large role in defining a player’s movement. If you are used to more modern games, even one can Mario the game can seem unforgiving, to say nothing of a hack-and-slash-esque Shinobi.

It’s a different style of play, one like the recently released one Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider from indie developer JoyMasher goes all in on.

Vengeful Guardian focuses on classic hack-and-slash mechanics. The main things a player will do as a giant robot are run, attack and jump. Just like with many of the actual retro games I play weekly, I spent most of my time on the third. Getting the exact placement on a narrow Samus-like wall jump, especially with the open stream at the bottom, was an early struggle. Getting a small knockback with each damage made it impossible to get back on track without just waiting for my next life.

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But, as with the older games, persistence pays off. Soon I was able to navigate from one corridor in the dystopian biolab where the game starts to another. Moonrider is not heavily focused on plot, but it evokes Robocop and Running man in a world where violence is common entertainment.

The Guardian is a super soldier gone rogue, built to control the population, but now wants to take down the forces that use him to control the people. And to do that, he takes down the other Guardians like him. There are some discussions about freedom, security and responsibility, but the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. The game’s atmosphere is fantastic, a mix of Versus, Shinobiand Mega manespecially in the after Guardianits initial breakout level, the other stages can be played in any order.

Watch out!The Arcade Crew

Some of these stages can feel a little repetitive, just like they could in older games. That’s partly due to the limited moveset, with dash hits and dive kicks being by far the most effective attacks, and partly due to dark lighting that causes multiple stages to blend together. Gimmicks help some stand out, like being chased through Fallen City by another robot that fires guided missiles, or the first part of Iwondonilo City taking place on a motorcycle while enemies drive and fly around you. More than any other scene, Iwondonilo City seems to understand how colorful and vibrant 16-bit games can be.

Moonrider seems to understand that a player can spend their first couple of runs dying to get a better understanding of the stage layout, and the health and special attack bonuses are plentiful. A particular joy was falling off a stage that took off just a single health bar, taking the edge off each failed jump. The game encourages a player to try and try again, all the way down to the Game Over screen, where choosing to continue will see the Guardian’s eyes turn on in joy.

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There is no shortage of aggressive 2D games to play these days, from Metroid Dread to a 2018 indie game very similar to Moonrider, The messenger. Moonrider isn’t a game with bells and whistles, as its few upgrades, in the form of chips, don’t radically change the gameplay (unless you’re willing to go with the one that gives you more power in exchange for a one-hit death).

He has a face for a shoulder!The Arcade Crew

Rather, Moonrider knows what experience it wants to offer a player: compulsive pattern-based gameplay with a few key moves and really sick bosses. Sometimes this experience feels worth it, sometimes it takes a while. The game doesn’t wear out its welcome – it took me about 90 solid minutes to beat the first stage, and a player experienced in 16-bit gameplay will find the challenge manageable. It may not be perfect, but a game that knows what it wants to bring to the player and performs solidly is one that’s worth the sub-$20 price tag in my book.

Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is available now for Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, PC and Amazon Luna for $16.99

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