Moonlighter lovingly mingles shopkeeping and roguelike dungeon crawling, infusing every little moment in the game with a little excitement. Whether through dangerous fights where death is costly, the chance for valuable goodies to drop from the lowliest foe, or seeing customers coming in loaded with cash, it’s a game of constant tiny pleasures.
In Moonlighter, players will run their own little shop in town, selling items and tools to the warriors who come passing through. However, in order to find things to stock the shelves, players will need to guide Will, an adventurous shopkeeper, down into the nearby dungeons to explore and fight monsters, gaining salable items in the process.
The dungeon-crawling part offers some satisfying top-down action, with Will being able to equip several different weapons that offer a variety of combat styles and ranges. Players can stay safe using the spear (which works well with Will’s somewhat clunky movement), they can mix it up with sword and shield at shorter range, using a dodging roll to stay safe, or they can use any of a number of different combat styles that will suit them.
With the dungeons being generated upon entry, players will want to be familiar with their weapon and preferred playstyle. Moonlighter rarely offers the same layouts twice, so players will need to react to danger rather than memorize locations and enemy patterns. It rewards players for getting to know the enemies and how to best deal with them, but constantly throws unexpected enemy mobs at the player, creating interesting combat by seeing how players handle all of the enemy dynamics working at the same time.
Foes hit hard, too. Without investing in equipment (or even when you do), these creatures can wipe a careless player out in a handful of hits. Once taken down, players will be booted from the dungeon, forced to tackle it all over again from the beginning. With most dungeons only being three floors, that doesn’t sound so bad, but you also drop all of the items you picked up along the way. This adds a constant pressure to combat, forcing players to debate whether they want to risk another fight.
This sounds like it would reward cautious play, but players can teleport out of a dungeon by just holding down a button for a few seconds (and paying a little cash). If that sounds a little too easy, the high damage output of Moonlighters’ enemies means players can die in moments if they’re careless.
That said, dropping all of Will’s carried items isn’t a total disaster. While some items are useful for crafting new items for Will, most will just be sold for cash. There are plenty of fairly common items that will make the player good money, so it’s not like losing all of their collected goodies cost them many rare, ultra-valuable items. A death typically means a lost ten to fifteen minutes of play and only some lost cash they can easily make back on the next run. This makes the stakes low enough for players not to feel stressed by dying, but still high enough to make players wish to avoid it.
Players have to worry about more than enemies, as inventory management and knowing your product are equally important skills. Will can only carry so much stuff, and enemies drop items all the time, so players will need to constantly stack and shuffle the items they’re carrying to maximize profits later. Moonlighter doesn’t make you toss items you don’t want, though, giving players a magical object that turns discarded items into cash (although less than their salable worth), giving every item some value even if you’re getting rid of it.
Besides stacking like items together, certain items carry benefits and curses that players will have to manage in their inventory. Some of Moonlighter’s items destroy an item in a given location in your bag when you get home. Some automatically teleport something beside it back to your shop when placed in your inventory. Some can only be placed in certain locations in your bag. Balancing all of these makes even putting things in your knapsack an involved and interesting process.
The hard part, at first, is knowing what’s valuable enough to put in your bag. Players aren’t given a lot of indication on what’s valuable (although there are hints) until they try to sell it in their shop. This adds a little mystery to every new item, forcing players to debate whether an unknown item is worth tossing a known valuable one.
Outside of the dungeon, they can run an ever-growing shop, placing their found treasures on tables with the player’s own guess on what they’re worth. Once customers enter, players know quick enough, as they show several symbols that indicate whether your price is good. These symbols only hint at the item’s value, allowing players to constantly tweak prices to see the most they can get for their items, keeping the storefront aspect from growing stale. Moonlighter also keeps track of your most recent prices and their reactions, so players who just want to get back in the action can move quickly.
Tweaking prices does come with some minor gripes, as going to the price list does reset the cursor’s position in the shop. After setting up multiple tables, this results in a lot of moving back and forth within menus that gets irritating over time, but is a small problem, overall.
When players find themselves flush with gold, they can spend it on upgrades to their shop and the surrounding town, allowing themselves access to new upgrades that will make them more dangerous in the dungeons or help them sell more things more effectively in town. This gives smart shopkeeps some nice benefits for their work, and ensures players always want to be accruing more money for better stuff.
Moonlighter loop of combat, exploration, and sales is an engrossing one, with steps taken to keep players invested in every part of the game.