Moon Hunters from Kitfox Games lets players tell their own short stories by making lots of choices, with numerous possible outcomes. You can even play with up to four local players, creating a unique group tale in a single sitting.
Bringing back the moon
Although you'll tell many tales in many ways during your playthroughs of Moon Hunter, the basic premise involves a world in which most civilizations worship the moon goddess. One night, during a festival dedicated to the moon's honor, she fails to rise. As it turns out, an evil sun cult has somehow seized the moon goddess and declared war on her worshippers.
These Sun Wars have damaged reality, and it falls on the players to repair it. During each short playthrough of the game, you'll relive the five days when the Sun Cult overthrew the goddess and robbed the world of its moon. Each time, you'll make different choices and visit new areas (their availability and layout is randomized), bringing to light new parts of the overall tale.
It's an innovative way to tell a story, though you really need to play several times before the pieces start to add up. In the pre-game hub-world, you'll be able to read over (and revisit) past playthroughs and track the various locations and characters you've unlocked.
Hunting for adventure
Moon Hunters supports up to four local players. (There is no online play, unfortunately.) I find the game perfectly enjoyable solo, but teaming up with a friend or three speeds things along and creates interesting group scenarios. The one big weakness to the multiplayer support is that additional players can't join in or leave after the game has started. You'll need to start a fresh playthrough (which lasts about an hour) to add another player.
Initially, everyone can choose between four playable characters. Three additional characters become available after meeting them in subsequent playthroughs, including a villain. The team also gets to choose a starting location that affects their story and the levels they'll encounter. Then comes an excessive initial loading time, and finally the adventure can begin.
Moon Hunters' core gameplay is straightforward and approachable. Each character has three basic moves: a regular attack, a special attack, and a dash. The latter two consume spirit, which recharges over time. Enemies and breakable objects drop money that can be spent to upgrade your moves for the duration of that playthrough.
One playthrough takes place over the course of five days. From your starting location, the team will choose locations on the world map to visit as they search for a way to find the missing goddess. Each map location lists one or more points of interest that can be found within (such as merchants and shrines) to help with your decision. Most (but not all) locations consume one of your days, advancing towards a confrontation with the sun cult.
At the end of the day, the team will enter a campsite. There you can choose from several activities, including cooking, stargazing, and hunting. These all produce unique narrative results, though cooking is the real meat of the camping experience. To cook, you'll choose two ingredients from those you've found in your playthroughs, which produces a food and awards a stat boost to the party. Moon Hunters has 104 total food combinations to discover, which will involve lots of playing and cooking.
More than cooking, the key element that gives Moon Hunters so much replayability is player choice. From the very start and continuing throughout each location you visit, you'll encounter NPCs and situations that require the team to make a choice.
Do you help a distressed person or steal their things? Advice someone to pray or take action? These choices affect your character's personality and stats. Sometimes you'll gain an NPC helper or pet (whose death will be dramatized if it gets killed) to aid in battle. These choices can even have a dramatic outcome on the ending of your playthrough – I chose to flirt with the villain and completely avoided the final confrontation!
The Xbox One version of Moon Hunters features a whopping 47 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. These mostly come down to making certain choices in different situations and achieving specific endings. There's an element of luck involved, as you can't predict which encounters you'll experience in a specific playthrough. Also, most of the Achievements lack guides at launch – hopefully the community will discover and share strategies for them before long.
Still, you'll likely stumble across many by continuing to play and making different choices. There appear to be a couple of multiplayer Achievements: one for completing the game with a specific pair of characters, and another with four players all having selected the same character. Those will require some friends, but the rest seem to be doable solo.
We reviewed another bite-sized, multiplayer-focused action-RPG a while back called Crawl. Other than the four-player focus and short length, they're vastly different games – but, boy, is Moon Hunters a lot better than Crawl. This one is perfect for playing when you only have a little free time – you can finish a whole playthrough in an hour, but you're still opening up new pathways and choices for subsequent playthroughs.
The level of choice is consistently interesting and rewarding. The artistry is commendable, too, with excellent character portraits and beautiful music that demands a soundtrack purchase. Some players might long for a longer, more detailed narrative in a single playthrough. But if you can adjust to the need to replay the game while making different choices, you'll find this to be a clever and rewarding action-RPG.
Moon Hunters costs $14.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam.
- It's a four-player action-RPG you can finish in one sitting!
- Loads of player choices that lead to truly distinct outcomes.
- Each playthrough brings you one step closer to solving the overall narrative and restoring reality.
- A phenomenal soundtrack adds gravitas and emotion to the adventure.
- The loading time when you start a game is way too long.
- The enemy that blocks from the front is really annoying to fight by yourself.
- The randomized nature of the game can make it difficult to reach specific scenarios.
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.
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