Moonscars Review – Grim and Gorgeous
Developer: Black Mermaid
Release Date: September 27, 2022
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Humble Games
The path to self-discovery has never felt so challenging yet rewarding. Moonscars by Black Mermaid pushes you to the limit of honing your combat skills in a beautiful and dreary world. In this souls-like metroidvania, you play as Grey Irma, a fierce warrior on a path to overcoming deadly enemies and finding the Sculptor. This deity-like being holds the answers to your and others’ existences. It was difficult to keep my eyes away from the screen through pixelated perfection and intense gameplay.
I couldn’t help but be enamored with the amazing pixel art that Moonscars has to offer. Despite the dismal color palette and muted tones, there is a lot of variation in the dull shades within each scene. When some colors pop up, such as crimson red for blood, it stands out wonderfully to complement the environment. In addition to the scenery, the animations are fluid and captivating, adding ferociousness to both the hero and enemy combat. With each hit, I could feel the devastating impact of the visuals alone.
Regarding combat, Moonscars can be quite harsh and unforgiving. As Irma, you have your standard fare of attacks, such as a light attack, heavy attack, dash, and parry. You’ll also unlock abilities and secondary weapons, which can help with tougher enemies and clearing obstacles. Though you have a variety of methods to approach each fight, you must be wary of enemy attack patterns and environmental hazards. You may be surprised by how many enemies there are at any given point, so it’s best always to be prepared.
You do have a meter that encapsulates energy known as Ichor. Ichor depletes each time you heal or use a special attack. Luckily, each time you slay an enemy, the meter refills, giving you an incentive to be aggressive in each area. But if you’re too mindless, you can become easily overwhelmed as new types of enemies can surprise you and leave you in the dust. This combat system is consistently engaging, keeping you on your toes.
When you die, you return to a hub that you unlock by finding mirrors scattered throughout the world. These mirrors replenish your health and Ichor levels while also acting as checkpoints and teleport points. The world of Moonscars is vast, so these points can be pretty helpful if you need to backtrack. The hub also presents characters that can provide you with items and boons to upgrade your combat. When encountering mirrors and entering the hub, you may also come across a doppelganger, a crimson version of yourself that you must defeat in order to retrieve your next secondary weapon.
In that sense, dying and heading back to the hub doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Well, Moonscars aims for you to take a lesson for each death. Each time you perish, you lose all currency, known as Bone Powder. To regain it, you must return to where you died and reclaim your past spirit. In addition, many of your deaths trigger a blood moon effect, meaning some enemies are more formidable. You can quell this effect at a mirror if you use another collectible, known as glands, but those are not high in volume, so it’s best to manage them carefully.
For those who love a challenge, Moonscars brings significant difficulty that becomes rewarding once you figure out what to do. There’s plenty of exploration that needs to be done, mainly as random items are scattered about in hidden areas. For those who may be new or unfamiliar with this level of challenge, it can be jarring at first. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like giving up, especially after dying to the same boss dozens of times. But a sense of utmost satisfaction comes with finding that sweet spot of learning a combat pattern and overcoming a fight.
Outside of the gameplay mechanics, Moonscars displays a grim and mysterious atmosphere. The world-building is intriguing yet a bit too obscure. As you learn about your comrades and the Sculptor, you see the emotion and confusion within Irma’s mind. You begin to wonder what led to this situation in the first place and how you can figure out your past. The plot mainly serves as a vehicle to progress yourself forward in your journey through the darkness. While there are moments of engaging dialogue, such as your witty conversations with the Sculptor’s cat, much of the story is dry and cryptic, leaving me uninterested in the lore. It’s unfortunate, as some of the dramatic moments didn’t feel that impactful.
Though the story isn’t strong, the atmosphere is heavily carried by the aesthetics and ambiance. The soundtrack may not have a lot of variety, but it suits the gloomy setting. As you fight through waves of enemies, the faint choir vocals and ringing bells in the background resonate magnificently. The sound effects are powerful and quick, giving an edge to every battle. With regards to the scenery, it’s impressive how stunning the world looks despite the lack of color. If I had any minute flaws to point out, it’s that the environmental variety and pacing can be underwhelming.
Some areas are just full of the same enemies for you to fight your way through. Though these instances offer great combat practice, it can get a bit monotonous to trudge forward. The controls feel smooth throughout most of your fights, but there are slight moments where some of the reactions felt a bit delayed, such as a dash or parry. These never caused any major sources of frustration, but it is worth noting.
When I first booted up Moonscars, I couldn’t help initially thinking that this would be a familiar experience to other titles of these genres, such as Blasphemous or Slain: Back from Hell. Though there are comparisons for the genres, I think Moonscars does a great job of standing out amongst the rest. The art is terrific, and the combat feels rewarding despite its intensity and difficulty. While the story isn’t gripping, the gothic aesthetic is enticing, and I had a great time trudging through this forlorn adventure.
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