When I first heard about “Moon” on the DS, I couldn't help it—I imagined a game built around a hero who runs around “dropping trou”. (Yes, I am that juvenile.) Anyway, the second Moon's film-like opening cinematic started to play, that third-grade frame of mind vanished, replaced by serious anticipation. The game is brought to us by Renegade Kid, the same team who brought us 2007's horror-survival DS title Dementium: The Ward and uses an updated version of the Renegade engine used in that title. According to the team at Renegade Kid, the update means more action, more active environments, not to mention more game play and after playing Moon I can say they weren't yankin' our chains.
Moon's a very different type of game than Dementium. Let's just get that out of the way. It doesn't bank on shadowy hallways and creepy, Silent Hill-ish monsters. It's set 50 years from now and you play a no-nonsense military man sent with the Extra Terrestrial Encounter Organization to investigate a research facility on the Moon. As always happens in these places, something has gone terribly wrong. Excavations have revealed a huge underground alien complex of unknown use. The first team sent to explore the complex never came back and it's your job to investigate their fate.
Moon is easy to jump into because the game concept couldn't be simpler. With the help of your good buddy Captain Tsukigami and maps downloaded from alien map terminals, you search the maze-like halls for your lost comrades, shooting anything that gets in your way. The lower screen on the DS shows the mini-map, your weapons and all comlink transmissions, leaving the action to the upper screen. The Control Pad moves you, the L button fires your weapons and the stylus moves the camera, opens doors and swaps weapons. The control scheme is elegant, takes no time to learn and for the most part is very easy on your hands. It's a good thing too, because this alien facility hides a terrible secret and the army of hostile, trigger-happy robots defending it won't give you time to study up.
You start the game with your standard issue Super Assault Rifle but as you move through the game you collect a variety of alien weapons: the Muon Pistol, ideal for blasting bothersome hover droids, the Fermion Sniper for long distance enemy roasting, the Lepton Spread for peppering multiple enemies with subatomic particles and the Oxid Cannon and Seeker Pods for those times when a mech just begs to be blown to smithereens. In addition to a healthy collection of projectile weapons, you have an extra-terrestrial Hummer called the LOLA-RR10 for surface reconnaissance and a small robotic sidekick called a Remote Access Droid or “RAD” which is used like an RC car armed with a defensive EMP blast. Both are fun to use. When driving the LOLA, the point of view becomes third person and steering is done with the Control Pad and stylus. The vehicle turns wide and fishtails around corners making for some tense moments weaving through mine fields so you gotta stay sharp. You'll use the RAD throughout the game to collect hidden alien artifacts (which unlock special training episodes) and drop force fields but don't think of the RAD as just a robotic gofer. This brave little toaster-on-wheels even lends a mechanical hand during boss battles.
Moon has a vintage feel to it that brings a nostalgic tear to my eye. You run through hallways, shoot bots, use your RAD to lower force fields, run farther, shoot MORE bots, and at the end of every level, battle an even bigger bot. It's not complex but think of it like an Italian buffet – it tastes good so who cares if every dish is made of the same ingredients? Moon's got the action down pat but it's no slouch on story either. Frequent character exchanges and computer terminals scattered throughout the levels advance the plot, revealing the mystery behind the alien complex.
The graphics in Moon echo the nostalgic feel of the game play. The textures, UI and character portraits remind me of many a beloved shooter of yesteryear. They're more polished than the old N64 titles, but they definitely hearken back to them. Color is used particularly well, especially in the map setup. The mini-map turns red to indicate areas you've been through and each floor of the alien complex is indicated in blues that darken as you descend. As mentioned before, the game starts with a very movie-like title sequence and has a surprising number of in-game cutscenes as well. These are great for storytelling but sadly, appear extremely pixelated. The sound too could use some polish, especially the soundtrack which is cool at first but soon becomes so repetitive, you might end up turning it off.
Moon's a surprisingly fun first person shooter, something lacking for the most part on the DS. The levels are thoughtfully designed (yay for well-placed save points!) and the multiple difficulty settings provide a good amount of replayability. Once you've played through adventure mode you can play individual levels in Quick Play mode or any secret training levels you may have unlocked. That reminds me—one disappointment about the training levels is that they don't seem to offer anything new. The maps are very similar to what you've seen in the main game and they might've been more fun if they unlocked a new weapon or a even a new enemy.
The Good: Interesting story, good control scheme, cool art direction
The Bad: Lackluster unlockables, repetitive soundtrack, pixelated cutscenes
Moon is a well-made 3D action/adventure game which is something the DS could definitely use more of. The features of the DS are put to good use here, from the playing field/UI layout to the elegant control scheme. If you're a fan of the DS and the good old-fashioned run-and-gun, Moon is a pocket-sized adrenaline rush with your name on it.