Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider

The premise of Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a pretty awesome one. This is a 16-bit action game that feels like it would have been at home on the Sega Genesis. It does exactly what it sets out to do, but in trying to emulate a golden era of gaming, it falls short of perfection.

First, let’s talk about the good. Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider has this really authentic old-school look to it. It’s not just the pixel art — it’s the Shinobi-like flippy jumps that the protagonist does while jumping, or the way the backgrounds pulse and throb with various colors, or the weirdly tall character designs. All of this feels like it came straight off a Genesis cartridge. Ahh, I can practically smell the plastic…

Similar to the Mega Man games, there’s a menu where you can choose which stage to tackle next, and defeating the boss of that stage will give you a new ability that you can then use on the other stages. I love this format.

Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider

On top of that, the game offers different types of gameplay, from beat-’em-up brawls to platforming jumps to even riding a motorcycle in a Road Rash-style freeway chase (though with guns). So far, so good.

Where things go a little sour for me is that the controls feel sloppy. Sure, in the beat-’em-up segments, this isn’t a huge problem, but when you’re trying to jump over spike pits while dodging electric bolts, things can get pretty hairy pretty quickly.

I especially hate how wall jumps feel — and I generally love wall jumps. In a game like, say, Super Meat Boy or Mega Man X, when you jump into a wall by pressing toward that wall, you will automatically stick to that wall while slowly sliding down it. In Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider, though, you have to press jump a second time when you hit the wall in order to stick to it, and a third time to activate the wall hop. So a move that should be a matter of muscle memory for anyone who plays a lot of old-school platformers feels awkward and imprecise. More often than not, this results in clinging to the wall lower than you would have liked and then missing the next jump.

The real problem for me, though, is the checkpoint system. Yeah, there are people who will defend it for feeling so authentically retro, but there’s a reason we don’t see checkpoint systems like this anymore — because they kind of suck.

Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider

Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a game where you have limited lives, and it’s often difficult to tell where you’re going to end up if you lose one of those lives. Some of the checkpoints feel unfair and ridiculous, like before a really difficult jump sequence instead of after it. Worse yet is the continue points, where you’ll start if you lose all your lives and use the “Continue” option. Early in the game, I thought this was handled decently well, but when I got deeper into the game, there were instances where beating a miniboss wouldn’t be enough to trigger a hard checkpoint that you’d return to after a continue. This can be absolutely infuriating.

Sure, this game isn’t super long (I was told it should take about two hours for a skilled player — but I am clearly not a skilled player), so the checkpoint system pads it out a bit. But that’s very clearly just padding. I would rather have a game be short and consistently good than be padded out with mediocre content.

Look, just last year we had some incredible throwback games, from TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge to Infernax to Demon Throttle. There are ways to make a retro-style low-bit game be all sorts of fun. Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider does get this in some respects, but in others the throwback parts hit just a little too close to home. I don’t think any of us missed the 16-bit era’s checkpoint systems, and this was an era when sometimes the controls worked beautifully, and other times they just didn’t.

That said, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a game that plenty of folks are going to adore. Some people are going to be able to look past its flaws and have a blast with this thing. And to those people I say, “Good on you.” For me, though, the frustrations outweigh the positives — but only slightly. I still had fun during much of the game, but I definitely don’t feel like I can stomach a second playthrough.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider on Steam, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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