Vengeful Guardian Moonrider (Steam)- Review

Thanks The Arcade Crew to for the review code

Title: Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider
System: Steam (PC)
Price: $16.99
Release Date: 01/12/2023


In a world taken over by a tyrannical government, a batch of vicious robots known as Guardians are built to keep the current order in place. When one of them snaps and starts to develop his own mindset, he sets out on his own quest to fight his fellow guardians to help the planet! While the story definitely has a presence throughout the adventure, it doesn’t do too much here, being pretty predictable and harmless, and outside of pre-boss banter, it doesn’t even intrude all that much, though the ending cutscene is unskippable and replaying the final stage for a better rank can make rewatching that a bit annoying.


Akin to Joymasher’s last game, Moonrider is a 16-bit throwback, with a muted color scheme and lovely spritework. Also like before, Moonrider prefers to stick to its own routine rather than directly copy the look of a specific game, and it really just uses the style as a means of expression rather than trying to copy vintage limitations.

On Steam Deck the game generally runs excellent at 60FPS, but a V-Sync of some sort causes the game to have microstutters now and then unless fullscreen mode is disabled, which is pretty irritating once you notice it, and I wish there were deck specific settings to toggle to reduce the V-Sync quirks. Otherwise if you play on a monitor or usual PC display it’ll be smooth perfection.

The music is yet again another great score, and while Blazing Chrome had a few songs I listened to often from the game’s OST, Moonrider packs far, far more memorable tracks, with the first half of the Air Armada stage and the final boss theme easily having very early contenders for my favorite video game music tracks of the entire year. There are even digitized voices and grunts here and there, which fit the Mega Man Zero-esque action like a glove.


With a huge wave of recent Ninja games lately all trying to copy Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi or Shadow of the Ninja, it may surprise you to learn that Moonrider really doesn’t lean too heavily on either of those three; maybe Shinobi due to the ability to dive kick and dash slash, but the core gameplay loop ultimately feels the closest like Zero’s campaigns in the Mega Man X series, with some Mega Man Zero elements in as a bonus, as you’re tasked with taking out each guardian in charge of the city with your arsenal of weapons.


You have a three hit combo, a dash button, and very agile jumps, leading to tight, very responsive controls right out of the gate! You also have a subweapon meter and gain weapons from bosses, and there’s even a stage ranking system, though thankfully you don’t have to get the highest rank to obtain the boss weapon like in MMZ games. After a fun introduction stage, you have six more levels you can choose from in any order, each with their own guardian to take out. From the perilous jumps of the air armada, (reminding me the most of a certain Mega Turrican stage, oddly enough) the Night Striker/Hang-on esque genre shift stage, a collapsing building that spouts flames at you, to a crazy space elevator, Moonrider has impressive variety, and each stage I found myself replaying several times to improve my rank, with even the genre shift level not being as much of a drag as I feared it could be, since it manages to maintain the high quality and engaging fun as the side-scrolling action.


Each stage is broken up into sections of sort, usually separated by a midboss. While you do have limited lives, and dying impacts your rank, continuing really just sends you back to the beginning of the current section, so even continuing on a boss fight doesn’t hurt you too much if you just want to get through the game, and in that respect, Moonrider excels in so many ways at being the kind of fun, memorizable action game that made me fall in love with Shadow Dancer and Ninja Gaiden II: very tough, punishing levels that can be hair-pulling to go through flawlessly, but well designed and fair enough that if you memorize and keep at it you can still beat the game while having a great time.


Luckily, your subweapons offer some extra aid as well, with one particular weapon being so damn fun to abuse it might as well be this game’s version of the Storm Tornado or Metal Blade, despite how all the other weapons have a lot of great utility both in and out of combat, with not one of them feeling useless. In fact, a lot about this game feels super accounted for, and that even comes down to the optional upgrade chips hidden throughout each stage, which allows you to augment Moonrider with cool skills ranging from a double jump to absorbing HP/MP upon defeating an enemy, or even turning the ninja into a hyper fragile, one-hit death warrior like the Arcade Shinobi days.


Seriously, every boss fight, level, and mechanic just feels so lovingly polished and cared for that the three hour experience felt like an absolute joy from start to end, with the only stage I found a little bit of pain with being the second vehicle stage near the end of the game, and even that was more due to it being a bit too long, rather than the level being poorly made or frustrating. Even the final boss, which tripped me up for a good twenty minutes before I nailed a great pattern, was so damn fun to fight each and every single time, with that final victory feeling oh-so worth it in the end.

Unfortunately, there’s no boss rush, speedrun or bonus harder difficulties to go through after clearing the game, but rather than just take the one run I did and call it a day, I went right back in to the earlier stages in order to aim for some B and A ranks, and each romp was just as fun as the last, and it really isn’t too often when I just wanna go through a platforming stage again and again, but the gameplay loop was just too damn fun to put down right away, and that’s a testament to how polished this action experience is!


Moonrider is definitely a surprisingly strong start to 2023, being a fantastic game that takes a lot of the best aspects from the Mega Man Zero/X series while not being afraid to go crazy with being such a darn fun game to play. Every single stage here feels almost perfectly, carefully balanced to the most microscopic detail, and while it may seem intimidating at first, finally conquering a tough stage or boss that tripped you up makes the whole battle ultimately worthwhile.

I’m not afraid to admit that this game hooked me right away, and I was enjoying every second from start to finish, with the only weak spots being those oddball vehicle stages, which even then feel rather balanced despite the genre shift. In a way, you could argue that being able to use armor chips or special weapons can make the game too easy, and I could even see myself nailing all those S ranks with enough persistence, since each stage is just a blast to speed through again and again, to the point I already nabbed all the B ranks by the time this review hits your screen.

Honestly, the only real problem Moonrider has isn’t the short length of the main game, but the lack of anything else outside of it. I would have definitely been all in for a boss rush or speedrun mode to tackle after clearing the game once as incentive to constantly replay it, since Moonrider would benefit greatly from either mode, but as it stands right now you just have a 3 hour, phenominal retro adventure to slash through that you’ll enjoy every second of, and arguably exceeds the great retro balance found in Blazing Chrome, nearing outright perfection in several aspects. The ultimate definition of short and sweet.

I give Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider an 9 out of 10.

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