Aim for the Stars
You can practically smell the nostalgia wafting off every second of Moon Raider. Developed by Cascadia Games and Published, appropriately enough, by Crescent Moon Games, this 2D platformer is a charming throwback to the heyday of the Game Boy Advance. Challenging but fair, Moon Raider is easily one of the best new mobile games of 2020.
The story of Moon Raider is relatively straightforward. Players take the role of Ava, the half-human daughter of the deposed Queen of the Moon. When Ava’s mother suddenly falls ill, she travels to the moon searching for a cure. To find it, Ava must jump, dash and battle her way through an army of alien warriors and killer robots.
Said cure takes the form of crystals scattered throughout the levels. The player must collect two hundred of them to cure Ava’s mother, so exploration is mandatory. There’s usually 2-3 in each stage, and the hunt is definitely enough to trigger gamer OCD. There are also plenty of secret areas and bonus stages tucked away in remote corners of the levels.
It’s hard to overstate how much Cascadia Games Moon Raider tied the game to retro properties. The button layout is the spitting image of the Game Boy Advance, and Ava herself looks like a cross between Mega Man and one of the green alien girls from Star Trek. Even the title feels like a deliberate reference, although any similarities to Laura Croft end there. The retro sensibilities even extend to the game’s difficulty.
An Old School Challenge
I won’t mince words; Moon Raider is hard. The first boss will ruin your day until you get its pattern down, and things don’t let up from there. It’s definitely a game for players who like a challenge, and there are times when Moon Raider can be just short of frustrating. However, it’s never unfair, so each failure feels like a learning experience rather than a setback.
The minute-to-minute gameplay is straightforward at first. There is a direction pad, a button to jump, and a button to shoot. Ava can double jump and will shoot faster if you hold the button. Things don’t really get interesting until after encountering the second boss. That’s when Ava gains her dash ability. Well, the game calls it dashing; it’s more like flying through the air as a nearly indestructible ball of light. Using the power consumes energy, which the player gathers by collecting crystals, although not the same ones needed for the story. Said crystals are plentiful, but each one only provides a small amount of energy, so dashing must be done sparingly.
While jump, shoot and dash might not sound like much, the levels themselves are interesting enough to keep the game from getting repetitive. Enemies are wildly varied, with each having unique abilities and posing a different challenge. New zones also introduce new hazards from spikes and vines to lasers, turrets and trapdoors. Later stages also introduce new mechanics, such as trampolines and swimming.
Craters in the Surface
In contrast to the mechanical differences, the stages are lacking in visual variety. Each group of levels has its own theme, but little beyond color scheme separates the layout of caves from factories and palaces. Every zone is a maze of random corridors and drops with no reason to exist outside of game mechanics.
The gameplay is not wholly without problems. Checkpoints are a little too far apart considering the game’s difficulty, and some hazards blend in too much with the background. The first section of the game was terrible about this, featuring thorny vines the same color as the floor. Ava is challenging to control when dashing, and the game also has a habit of sticking instant deathtraps immediately after the entrance to a zone. This gets incredibly frustrating since Ava insists on entering every area at full speed. It’s easy to get trapped in a death loop as she repeatedly sprints off the same too-small platform.
Still, these quality of life issues do not overshadow the game’s better aspects. Moon Raider was very clearly the result of a lot of effort and passion, and it shows every step of the way. Is it perfect? No, but it can see perfection from the rooftops.
Is it Hardcore?
A charming throwback to the 32-bit era, Moon Raider offers the perfect amount of challenge. Not without flaws, but definitely a must-play for fans of old school platformers.