Very special thanks to DANGEN Entertainment for providing us with this review copy.
The Switch has quickly become one of the best consoles to own if you are a fan of exploration based platformers, a genre more commonly referred to as “Metroidvania” that is characterized by 2D platforming, item upgrades, and a generous amount of backtracking. Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, the fourth game in the Momodora series, adds yet another title of this kind to the Switch’s ever growing library. When I first saw the trailer to this game, originally released on Steam on 2016, I was intrigued. The sprite work was gorgeous, and the dark atmosphere immediately brought to mind hours of playing many of the 2D Igarashi Castlevania titles. Still, with so many fantastic 2D titles available on the Switch, I was not convinced. What does this game have to offer for long time fans of the genre such as myself? Read on to find out.
As mentioned previously, this game is actually the fourth title in the Momodora series. Don’t worry though, as not knowing this fact during my play through of the title didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the game in the least. The plot is simple yet engaging. You play as Kaho, a priestess from Lun, a land in the West which has fallen under a dark curse that seems to have originated from the Kingdom of Karst. Lun is tasked with seeking an audience with the Queen of Karst in order to see if the darkness that has overtaken the world can somehow be lifted. From there, you have to explore Karst, collect some magical seals, and see what can be done about that pesky curse.
Like any good Metroidvania, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight features quite a bit of backtracking and item upgrades, but it is an action platformer first and foremost, with an emphasis on the action. The enemies, especially early on, are no joke and take Kaho out in just a few hits. Luckily, you are equipped with just the tools for the job. You start your journey with both a magic maple leaf, for melee attacks, and a bow (with unlimited arrows) for long distance sniping. I was actually surprised with just how much of Kaho’s kit is available from the get go. Besides having two forms of attacks, she can double jump and do a ground roll from the outset of this adventure. When the upgrades do come, they are often in the form of stat boosting or tweaking items.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t have upgrades that encourage additional exploration, however. Kaho’s cat transformation, for example, allows you to explore passageways too small for you to access in your base form. Think of Samus’ morphball from Metroid or Juan’s chicken form from Guacamelee! If you want a good comparison. Over all though, the game stresses enemy combat and exploration over the more creative power ups found in games such as Ori and Blind Forest or Axiom Verge. One area in which Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight shines are the boss fights. The bosses are big, well realized, and a ton of fun to fight. The encounters manage the balancing act of being tough without ever feeling unfair, and also with never having your character feel overpowered against them as can often happen in this genre.
This title uses just six buttons (and only one control stick or d-pad), adding to its old school feel. Jump, melee attack, special item, ranged attack, roll (and air dash), and item cycle. That’s it. While the controls are not fully customizable, the game does offer two control schemes, and I suggest experimenting with both to see which one you prefer. I actually played through the game using a SNES classic controller, and it was an amazingly nostalgic experience. I did so by using the 8Bitdo Gbros. Wireless adaptor, which allows for both GameCube and Wii classic controllers to be used on the Switch, a product that, as an aside, is very much worth its cost. I also played for a few hours in handheld mode. The game feels great using that control scheme as well, and the action remained responsive. Still, try to play this game with a proper D-pad if you can.
The sprite work in this game is truly impressive. The characters and enemies are all distinct, and the animations are satisfyingly smooth. What impressed me the most, however, is the amount of detail packed into the game. The art style is purposefully trying to emulate a 16-bit aesthetic, but the title takes advantage of modern hardware to perform the occasional effect that would have been beyond the older titles that this game takes inspiration from. Seeing the world reflected in real time in bodies of water is a great example of this. The most impressive visual portions of Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight would have to be the boss fights, though. These bosses usually consist of extra detailed sprites, and their attacks go beyond what you see from regular enemies.
I enjoyed the game’s soundtrack… but it’s not something that will stick with me. Don’t get me wrong, the music, and the sound in general, is extremely atmospheric and complements that different areas of the game amazingly well. They’re just not the sort of tunes I am likely to be humming to myself the next time I take my dog out for a walk.
Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight is a fun, retro inspired action platformer that I would absolutely recommend. The game does clock in on the short side, however, with my personal playthrough of the game taking just over six hours. The game also doesn’t do much to push the genre forward… but this isn’t something all titles need to do. If you want a solid, fun, and well put together Metroidvania, you could do a lot worse.