Review: Moon Chronicles: Episode 1

Handheld shooters aren’t attempted very often, and are made well even less. The 3DS in particular is starved of the genre, leaving many gamers resigned to the belief that they simply can’t thrive on the system. Luckily, Renegade Kid has revived its acclaimed DS game, Moon, rebuilt from the ground up for the 3DS, and repackaged it as Moon Chronicles, an episodic eShop title that is unlike anything else on the handheld. However, the game’s episodic format has surrounded it with confusion and concern, and unfortunately those worries aren’t unfounded.

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Moon Chronicles drops you into the boots of Major Kane as he investigates a mysterious hatch on the surface of the moon and searches for his missing colleagues. It’s an intriguing premise, and upon landing on the grey space rock you’re given time to experiment with the game’s multiple control schemes and take in your surroundings. As a left-handed gamer without a circle-pad pro, movement was relegated to the A, B, X, and Y buttons while I enjoyed the stylus-led precision of aiming on the touch screen. The moon itself looked as gray and barren as you would expect, but it isn’t until you descend into its futuristic depths that Moon Chronicles‘ visuals really start to flex their new, sleeker muscles.

Running at a crisp 60 frames per second, a feature enjoyed by very few 3DS games, Renegade Kid has done a fantastic job of utilizing the 3DS’s more powerful hardware in the game’s transition from the DS. That includes the open embrace of stereoscopic 3D, which adds a lovely layer of depth to the environment (though it takes some discipline to maintain the visual sweet-spot while fending off multiple enemies). However, the cutscenes haven’t made the jump quite as cleanly, retaining the fuzzy graphics of the original and lacking the level of polish boasted by the rest of the game.

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Unlike most modern shooters, Moon Chronicles doesn’t feature any jump, melee, or sprint actions. Instead, the game seeks to be a shooter in the purest sense. And it succeeds, for the most part, but with only two guns available throughout the episode and a small collection of enemies to destroy, such a simple design runs the risk of growing stale very quickly. Luckily, you happen upon a “remote access droid” before that ever becomes an issue, throwing a clever spin on the game’s formula. While still able to fire at enemies, the droid can only stun them, swapping the power and confidence of the game’s typical running and gunning for a more frantic and vulnerable experience. Later in the episode you even briefly get behind the wheel of a moon rover, maintaining the game’s emphasis  on shooting while adding a refreshing change of setting that shows promise for the title’s future installments.

But after just over an hour, it was over. Staring at the red-lettered “To Be Continued…” screen, I couldn’t help but feel a bit confused. After all, my time with episode 1 of Moon Chronicles ended with barely any events of note, and despite some history-toting podiums scattered throughout the levels there was a distinct lack of any concrete story development. Not only that, but dry writing and one-dimensional characters combined to sabotage any chance I had of connecting with the cast. Now, these issues would normally be tolerable so early in a complete, full-length game, but they betray the game’s episodic format by failing to provide any compelling reason to follow up with the story. There are no hints at new enemies to defeat, more diverse environments to explore, or even the overarching plot of the game, which could prove to be a fatal flaw in the game’s consumer appeal.

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Moon Chronicles takes a lot of cues from the Metroid series, like backtracking for items and timed exits from levels, but it doesn’t enhance any of those borrowed elements in any unique or innovative ways. In fact, they all feel a bit half baked, a recurring theme I found during my time with the game. It has a lot of interesting ideas, but none of them feel fully developed. I understand that later installments will likely elaborate on the ideas introduced in the first episode, but episode 1 did little to convince me of that. It’s just another reason to question Renegade Kid’s decision to modify its game into an episodic series without better tailoring its content to suit the new release format.

That’s not to say the game isn’t good, though. In fact, I really enjoyed episode 1 of Moon Chronicles, and despite the repetitive pulsating techno tunes and some uninspired enemy and environment designs, I found a lot to appreciate in the title’s brief first episode. The game was saved from monotony by a couple refreshing boss encounters, which although short provided a welcome change of pace. And with multiple difficulty levels and an unlockable bonus VR mission, there’s definitely a decent amount of replayability in the game’s debut episode.

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Closing Comments:

Moon Chronicles shows a lot of promise, and it’s an undeniably unique experience on 3DS. But while wholly entertaining, its first episode is short, and devoid of any truly compelling reason to return to the game’s unique setting. There are lots of upsides to this title, especially with Renegade Kid’s announcement of a second season featuring entirely new content, but as it stands Moon Chronicles doesn’t quite live up to its lofty potential.
score3.5
 Platform: 3DS