Spending a significant amount of my childhood in arcades has given me a certain appreciation for those old school games of ruthless difficulty and crazy action. So when I started up Moon Diver, a new 2D scrolling action game that feels like a new-age Strider, it immediately felt familiar.
The plot is...just flat out weird, and is basically surplus to requirements. Instead you play as one of four characters through the game's 12 stages and try to kill anything that moves, while navigating the crazy levels. There is a good mix of platforming and action, and the difficulty starts to ramp up very quickly after the first few levels.
For old school gamers who are used to this sort of thing, it will probably feel just fine . However, for those not used to the harsh 'blast from the past' experience, Moon Diver may be a little too punishing. What makes this worse for the single-player is that if you die at any point in the level, it's game over and you have to go back into the games main menu and restart that stage again. Multiplayer takes this issue away, because as long as one of your partners is alive, you will respawn within a few seconds.
So playing with a friend is definitely the better way to go and Moon Diver allows for up to four player co-op. While this sounds great, in reality it is pure and utter chaos (especially when you consider you can all choose to play the same character if you want ). With four players all sharing a screen, even when playing online, and with the number of enemies running around, it becomes impossible to keep track of where you are or what is going on. When I played, I enjoyed it most with just one other person: it was still a lot of fun, death wasn’t as punishing and I could keep track of what was happening.
One of Moon Diver's smartest moves is that it introduces some good, old-fashioned RPG elements into the mix. Every enemy you kill gets your character experience points so you can level them up. In between stages you can then use your level points to upgrade and mould your characters more to your play-style. You also unlock different special powers and choose which ones (up to four) you wish to take with you on a mission. This can add a bit of variety to the game and gives you a reason to keep going. In co-op you can also combine powers with your friends, although which powers can be combined and what effect they will have is not clearly explained; so a little experimentation is required.
Artistically the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The art-style is cool and some of the effects are impressive but at other times really doesn’t look that much better than some of the games from the 90’s it was clearly inspired by. However, the game’s soundtrack can be pretty damn cool if you like that kind of music.
All in all Moon Diver will not be for everyone. If you enjoy your old-school 2D action games played with a friend or two, Moon Diver could certainly scratch that itch. On the other hand, it doesn’t really do anything all that special and if you aren’t used to the punishing nature (read: difficulty!) of these games, then it might be best to avoid this one.