Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider review (PS5)

The Arcade Crew’s Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is out now for all major systems, and is a finely crafted throwback to 16-bit action adventures. We took a look at the version for the PlayStation 5.

We previewed Vengeful Guardian earlier after meeting with the developers at JoyMasher during Gamescom, so you might already be aware of the story premise here. Our protagonist is a cyber ninja who was originally built as an enforcer for an oppressive regime, but decides to grow a conscience and overthrow his former masters. As with the games of the time period that inspired it, it’s a simple story, with the game itself firmly focused on gameplay with the odd cutscene here and there to help the story progress.

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That gameplay is deceptively simple, with a combination of walking, running, jumping and attacks – a good throwback to when game controls were much simpler, and developers had to improvise to add moves because they simply didn’t have any more buttons available to them. Jump, and you get access to an aerial kick, that sort of stuff. You can also expand your skillset by finding chips and unlocking (secondary) weapons, which adds a good amount of diversity to the gameplay as you (for example) gain a double jump or a dash move.

We thought Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider looked great, as a hybrid of 16-bit arcade titles and home computer games in the same genre. Part Strider, part Turrican – the whole thing feels like an homage to the era without resorting to a typical look and feel. From the level layouts to the character designs and animations, this screams “retro” without being a copycat. The soundtrack features a similar approach, invoking memories of some of the excellent compositions by Chris Hülsbeck and David Whittaker while also adding the additional channels and richness that modern tools allow for.

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Although Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider only features eight stages, they’re challenging and offer plenty of variety between them – with even a Mode 7-inspired sequence to take you out of the 2D action platforming for a little bit. And all levels are quite long, and even though you’ll probably tackle the first one fairly quick it’ll take you a while before you get through the entire campaign – especially with its challenging bosses and situations where initially it feels like it’s hard to avoid damage.

That doesn’t mean this is the longest game you’ll play this year either – someone used to more challenging titles will probably wrap this one up in one or two evenings, and from there on there’s not much to do besides trying to improve your score for each level. Replay value is therefore limited, especially if you’re not a completionist or too interested in trophies – once you master the levels and boss attack patterns, you’re pretty much done.

Considering that a lot of 16-bit games were actually quite short as well, we don’t consider that to be a major issue, but it’s the biggest one facing this otherwise highly enjoyable throwback that was developed with a clear affinity for the games that inspired it.

Score: 7.7/10

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