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Moonscars review for PS5, Xbox Series X, Switch, PC


Platform: PS5
Also On: PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, PC
Publisher: Humble Games
Developer: Black Mermaid
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: M

Moonscars is the latest attempt to merge 2D style action-platformers with a Dark Souls-like system of leveling, difficulty, and overall mood. As far as that aspect goes, it does fairly well, allowing a bit more mobility than we’ve seen in other similar titles, which in turn makes combat feel a little more energetic and engaging throughout. It also does a solid job of mirroring the gothic feel of a Souls-like world, with a dark, oppressive atmosphere throughout the adventure. 

That said, I can’t say that I entirely enjoyed my time spent with Moonscars. The base melee combat feels pretty good, you’ll pull off satisfying sword strikes that both look and feel powerful, enemies can be pushed back by stronger strikes, and the parry system is fairly easy to get used to and pull off well enough. However, the secondary magic/ability system feels underwhelming, and outside of using it to knock down the occasional barrier, I found little use for magic overall. A lot of that is due to the overall cost of most abilities, which pull from a meter called Ichor and are generally so expensive you’ll only be able to use an ability once or twice before exhausting that meter. The meter can refill as you land successful melee hits, but it does so at a pretty slow pace, so even in extended boss battles that meter won’t fill quickly. Also, that same meter ties into your primary heal ability, which feels like it would have been better suited to the more traditional flask system that other Souls-like games employ, freeing up that Ichor meter to use combat abilities instead.

Moonscars does employ a few unique concepts when it comes to character progression. Outside of the standard resource you’ll collect from defeating enemies, each enemy you defeat will increase a meter, and once full, you’ll be able to select from three random perks, which can improve critical chance, reduce Ichor cost for spells/abilities, improve healing, and so on. You’ll lose these abilities upon death, but outside of that they can continue to stack as long as you’re successful with slaying enemies. You’ll also gain access to special weapons, which don’t replace your primary sword, but do serve as a special attack that can cause damage over time, improve your ability to daze enemies, and more. This special weapon is something you’ll lose when using a new save point, at which point you’ll usually warp to the hub world of Moonscars, but as soon as you exit that hub world you’ll face down a doppelganger of yourself that’s meant to be a husk of your character. Upon defeating that doppelganger you’ll be given a few choices for a new secondary weapon which will also typically enhance your health or Ichor. While I do enjoy the continuously building perk system, I’m not in love with the whole special weapon mechanic, and the need to face down a doppelganger every time you exit a new save point is kind of annoying overall. The special weapons can be useful for sure, but they’re oftentimes too slow to employ when facing off against multiple enemies at once and I didn’t find a lot of use for them overall. 

On the plus side, I did enjoy exploring the world of Moonscars. The map is pretty open, offering up a lot of hidden rooms and secrets to uncover, most of which are worth seeking out since they can lead to considerable damage and health upgrades. The map is maybe a little unclear, it doesn’t do the best job of highlighting dead-end walls for instance, but I found myself getting used to it over time and I think most players will as well. General traversal in Moonscars also feels pretty good, especially when jumping around or using the dash ability. You can also wall jump from the start, and again there’s plenty of reasons to look around and explore. 

I wouldn’t call Moonscars a must play game, but I can appreciate that it tries to do a couple of new things with a sub-genre of Souls-like games that has become increasingly popular over the past few years. I think there are better examples of 2D Souls games out there, but Moonscars doesn’t overstay its welcome and the combat/exploration is fun enough that I found myself willing to overlook most of the other issues. I wish the magic/special abilities were more useful, as it would be nice to switch up combat encounters a bit more, but it’s perfectly serviceable as is. So if you’re in the mood for another attempt at a 2D Souls-like, Moonscars might just be the game for you. 

Note: Humble Games provided us with a Moonscars PS5 code for review purposes.

Grade: B-