Platform: Nintendo DS
Renegade Kid’s last title, Dementium, made its place on the scene by being one of the best shooters to be released on a handheld sytem. It was set in a creepy, otherworldly hospital, and took advantage of the DS’s abilities to create a spooky 3D adventure. Despite the sytem’s limitations, Dementium was fun, and great as far as DS FPSs go, but was definitely a big fish in an incredibly small pond. Since then, little has changed in the pond, but the developers were set to try and make a much bigger splash with Moon, a futuristic FPS set inside our own moon, where a hatch was discovered and leads to conspiracies, secrets, and, you guessed it, aliens. Have the issues been overcome, or does Moon make the same mistakes as its predecessor?
Moon’s plot is nothing to be astonished by, but it gets the job done in terms of giving players an excuse to move from one place to another, shooting everything in their path. It doesn’t hold the game back in any way, but it surely doesn’t help it reach new heights. There’s little interesting going on during the adventure of Major Kane, leader of the Extra Terrestrial Encounter Organization, but going into a DS shooter expecting narrative excellence might be asking for too much. The only time it really gets in the way of the gameplay is when it comes to the enemies, which all have a robotic look and feel misplaced. It’s almost as if, during the design process, the developers decided on different types of enemies and sketched them as emotionless droids, planning on eventually going back and giving them interesting styles and visual appearances. Suddenly, January was upon them and they had to settle for floating grey robots and walking spider droids. The bosses help diversify the affair, but even they look like gigantic robots out of earlier sections of the game.
Spliced throughout the game are puzzles, mostly utilizing Kane’s RAD (Remote Access Droid), which is, for all intents and purposes, Samus’s morph ball. The RAD can get in hard-to-reach places and has a small electric attack which can stun enemies and, more importantly, activate switches. The little bugger can only take so many hits, though, so rushing to its rescue after a successful operation adds another layer of depth to the concept, which is so frequently done poorly. Games like Perfect Dark Zero have horrendous droid sections, but Moon is able to keep them relevant and fun, creating interesting puzzles and breaking up the run-and-gun corridors.
It doesn’t come up too much, but occasionally Kane is asked to travel from one place to another in the LOLA, a lunar vehicle with a roof-mounted turret that controls eerie similar to the Warthog from Halo. It feels a bit sloppy at first, but skidding across the moon’s exterior eventually becomes extremely enjoyable, and a pleasant break from the dark corridors of the moon’s innards. It’s something they should definitely tweak and mess around with for a sequel, and with some more polish the driving sections can be as enjoyable as the rest.
It’s hard to think of adjectives to describe the game’s controls, so I’ll just start with the first few that happened to pop into my head: astonishing, remarkable, excellent, wonderful. Everything attempted with both Metroid Prime: Hunters and Dementium was nearly perfected in Moon, and aside from the omission of a jump button, Moon is a shining example of perfection in its genre. Aiming never feels too loose, too tight, or wrong, and there’s no need for a lock-on of any kind. Swiping across the touch screen to select enemies is as intuitive, if not more, than using a PC mouse.
The same things said about the controls can be said about the graphics, which outperform just about anything else on the system. Saying the game looks like a Nintendo 64 game does it a disservice. While the polygon counts and textures might look reminiscent of that generation’s software, Moon’s visuals exceed anything from that era with an incredibly smooth framerate, and the DS’s graphics have improved tremendously since Mario 64 DS first showed up on the scene. It’s far from the PSP’s capabilities, but it’s still a noteworthy achievement, and acts as the icing atop an overall impressive cake. Sadly, the corridors and surroundings seem to repeat often, and while there’s more diversity than there was in Dementium there’s still too much environmental repetition. Unfortunately, the sound also suffers from redundancy issues as well, and Renegade Kid opted to reuse sound effects far too often. The sound track is also not as good as it could be, and comes off unoriginal and uninspired. I’d almost rather they have gone realistic and had no soundtrack and minimal, well made ambient sound effects, sort of how the outside areas in Dead Space worked.
Stunning visuals and incredible controls don’t prevent Moon from being kind of boring, though, and there are definitely some kinks in the armor. It’s fun the first time you run into a boss and strafe around, shooting at his weak points, but the second (and third) time it becomes monotonous, and the shine and luster slowly fall apart as the game progresses. Taken in short spurts, as handheld titles are often meant to be taken, Moon’s pacing and faults aren’t as noticeable, but it feels like the developers stopped the game short from being the ultimate experience it is so close to being.
For many, Moon's singleplayer campaign, although flawed, will be worth the price of purchase. Upon completion, missions are broken up into small segments that can be replayed, enhancing the value of the game significantly. The lack of a multiplayer, though, is unacceptable, even more so than in most games that lack the feature. There’s a definite opportunity here to create a remarkable multiplayer shooter on the system, and with the exception of Metroid Prime: Hunters there’s really nothing to fill that void. Dementium had an excuse, but as an action game, Moon really doesn’t, and the game would be much better and more complete with some kind of a competitive experience. Even without multiplayer, Moon is still worth trying out, and hopefully a sequel will polish up the remaining faults and take another small step towards the creation of the definitive DS FPS. It might not be Halo for the DS, but it’s definitely one giant leap towards that sort of an experience.