Do you, like many others, have fond memories of late 80s arcade classic Strider? You may be pleased to know that the brains behind Strider has decided to give his original gem a spiritual successor in the form of Moon Diver, a side-scrolling brawler available for download via PSN (with an XBLA version coming soon). Strider fans will be overjoyed at the similar mechanics and well implemented four player co-op, but it is not all smiles and rainbows.
The game sees you progressing through a series of 2D arenas as you hack, slash and magic your way through hordes of enemies. If you’ve ever played a side-scrolling beat ’em up before, you’ll find Moon Diver instantly familiar. The game controls well and is easy to get into with the standard jump, attack, charge attack and MoonSault attacks being easily mapped to the face buttons on your controller. MoonSault attacks are the equivalent of magic in Moon Diver and you can have four MoonSault attacks hot-keyed to the directional buttons at any one time. They add what little strategy is involved in Moon Diver and lend an impressive variety to the proceedings. They can also be fun to track down in the levels and are numerous in numbers. Good look trying to get them all.
What differentiates Moon Diver from other titles in the genre is its impressive co-op. With both local and online four player drop-in/out co-op, Moon Diver only gets better the more people you play with. As you level up you get the opportunity to invest points into your HP and MP reserves or your attack power, with the four different characters levelling up the varying attributes at different rates. It’s a simple system that means your three co-op companions will never be exactly alike.
Playing with friends also allows you to charge up and perform co-op magic attacks. It adds an element of teamwork to the game, but has its share of problems. The annoying thing is that, when you use charged up MoonSault abilities, the game pauses for a few seconds to show you an attack animation. Whilst the animations are decent enough, it really disrupts the pace of the game. What makes Moon Diver so addictive is its snappy pace and non-stop action, a feature that is often broken and annoyingly shattered by these animations. The problem also extends to online co-op breaking up the proceedings. Despite my love of the drop-in drop-out co-op, your session still ends if the host happens to leave. An incredibly annoying oversight on the developer’s part.
Those who wish to conquer Moon Diver in its entirety will find that the game has a large amount of content to show off. There are a lot of stages to go through, but levelling up your characters and locating all the MoonSault abilities will really give completionists value for their money. The difficulty is a little more difficult to praise. Co-op features a frustration relieving revive system where, upon dying, you get tangled up in spirit chains that your partners can break to restore you to the game. Solo play is a more frustrating endeavour, seeing you sent straight back to the beginning of the increasingly long stages every time you lose your HP. Few things have boiled my blood in quite this way for some time.
The presentation of Moon Diver is a somewhat hit and miss affair. The game runs smoothly, with the general visuals and level design being pleasant and distinctive. The character designs, on the other hand, are bland and repetitive. The fact that the enemies and player characters all seem to look and act in a similar manner, means that you can get confused with which character you are controlling at times. The audio too, in spite of some satisfying sound effects, is marred by an unremarkable soundtrack.
Possibly the most tacked on element of Moon Diver has to be its story. It revolves around some kid with Elf blood attempting to wipe out humanity with a bunch of elite ninjas, the eponymous Moon Divers, seeking to stop him. Trying to cull this much information from the narrative though, was like squeezing blood from a stone. The way the story unfurls is needlessly cryptic, with only a series of seemingly unrelated static images progressing the plot. It’s a real shame more couldn’t have been done with it but it is, in all honesty, seemingly irrelevant in a game as action orientated as Moon Diver.
If you happen to have a couple of real or online friends (local co-op for the win) who have an unsatisfied passion for no nonsense side-scrolling brawler action, then Moon Diver might be up your street. It does come with an advanced warning though. Expect many moments of repetition and confusion, and don’t even think about playing it on your own. If you can get over these issues, Moon Diver is an exciting and fairly satisfying arcade romp.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
Simple and surprisingly addictive, Choice of characters, Easy to use levelling system, A variety of spells to use, Four player drop-in/out co-op, Local and online multiplayer, Lots of levels
Repetitive character and enemy design, Paper thin plot, Worthless and cryptic narrative, Pointlessly difficult single-player, Frequent breaks in the action, Can get repetitive
An intense 2D brawler with some fun multiplayer mechanics, Moon Diver is sadly let down by repetition, difficulty issues and some odd gameplay pacing