It’s been mentioned plenty of times on this very site, but nostalgia is a hell of a thing. It’s tough for anyone to avoid pining for the past, and the games industry – both the AAA and indie sides – are well aware of this. If you want an experience that does its best to line up with the classics of the SNES and NES eras, they’re readily available, but how many of them really nail that feeling?
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider does its best and succeeds in a way a lot of similar games don’t. JoyMasher, creators of the similarly positioned Contra clone Blazing Chrome, return with another great example of the untapped potential of 16-bit nostalgia done right.
It’s a dark cyber-dystopian age, where video games offer gambling to children and hucksters try to convince an unassuming public that JPEG images of apes are legal tender. We follow Moonrider, a cyborg samurai who escapes from captivity and embarks on a quest for vengeance. There’s six bosses to take down during that quest, each of which will offer an upgrade to turn Moonrider into Swagrider.
Our robo-hero can run, jump and slash for the most part, with the odd special skill available as you proceed that can be recharged via pickups. Combat is reminiscent of classic hack-and-slashers, in particular the SNES hidden gem Run Saber, and also like that game you’re able to clamber about like a cybernetic lemur in order to quickly proceed through each level. Enemies are both obstacles and a chance to display your mad skillz once you’ve developed them, and chunks of a level that seem impossible early on will turn out to be stylish setpieces once you figure them out.
Moonrider can really make tracks if you’re running and jumping with some skill, so this one is bound to be a speedrunner’s dream. As mentioned, progressing through the stages will upgrade Moonrider’s abilities, as well finding hidden chips throughout each stage, and this allows you to mix things up with each playthrough – coming back to a stage after you’ve got the double jump, for instance, might offer some new pathways you hadn’t expected.
As with Blazing Chrome the 16-bit era serves as an inspiration to Moonrider’s aesthetics and gameplay, with obvious references to Contra III, the licensed Batman titles and more. The art and music are both impeccable and the controls feel spot-on, particularly if you’re using one of 8bitdo’s classic controllers. It’s the sort of nostalgia-bait that might have been a little tiring if we were revisiting the 8-bit era yet again – there’s hundreds of me-too pixel art indie titles out there, after all. Because the 16-bit era is somewhat less trodden ground, though, Moonrider feels remarkably refreshing. This is the kind of game that would’ve made a great Blockbuster rental.
A relatively short runtime lends credence to that Blockbuster thing as well, since it’s likely a 2-hour playthrough for most. That’s a short and sweet experience that ensures you won’t be spending a whole weekend to see everything that’s here, but it also makes for easy revisits when you’ve got that retro itch. All things considered, Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is a solid choice for 16-bit aficionados and newcomers to the old school alike, offering an authentic take on the era that’s deeper than just pixels and chiptunes. Grab some Bugles and a bottle of Orbitz and hop to it.