Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a new indie game with a retro 16-bit style. It has all the great things from that era but all the bad things, too.
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is a new love letter to the memorable 16-bit era of games. It’s another entry in the catalog of indie studio JoyMasher, which makes games heavily inspired by the original Ninja Gaiden, Contra, and Shinobi. These retro studios and retro games get more popular every year, but sometimes developers fail to tweak their style appropriately for modern audiences. Moonrider recreates all the great aspects of 16-bit-era games but also recreates a lot of the bad, poorly aged elements.
Players have already taken notice of Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider‘s fantastic 16-bit pixel art, audio effects, and soundtrack. For those familiar with the 16-bit era, Moonrider brings back a lot of great gaming memories, and for those who missed out on this aspect of ’90s gaming, Moonrider provides a great introduction to the genre. However, 16-bit-era games were never perfect. Moonrider‘s level design is confusing, it has cliché mechanics, and it even features a toggle-able CRT filter for the graphics, leading some players to wonder if retro game developers are becoming a bit too nostalgia-blind.
The Good & the Bad in Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider
Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider recreates aspects of the 16-bit era that most people have happily forgotten. It features some confusing levels that are filled with needlessly hidden power-ups, which cause players to spend their playtime backtracking. It also tries to introduce replayability with a simplistic ranking system, where at the end of a level the game counts up arbitrary points for all the defeated enemies. Although many 16-bit-era games had this, it was often a superficial mechanic that didn’t add much audience engagement. Many other developers left such mechanics behind in the ’90s, but retro games like Moonrider just refuse to let them go.
However, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider does update some of the more annoying 16-bit-era mechanics. Games from this era are famous for their brutally unfair elements, such as instant death traps and hidden enemies. Moonrider keeps these mechanics but makes them much less punishing. The game has a modern difficulty curve, so it doesn’t let players get stuck on a single level for hours. In fact, most players can leisurely complete the entire game in only a few hours. Moonrider has a short-but-sweet playtime, a popular phenomenon in modern indie games. This makes the game more accessible to average audiences, but it may disappoint some 16-bit fans.
The State of Retro Games Today
For die-hard Ninja Gaiden fans who have played every classic 16-bit adventure, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider doesn’t disappoint. It captures the tight combat, techno music, and strange sci-fi horror tone that those games popularized so well. However, in an age of emulation and increasing numbers of cross-platform ports, Moonrider may not be differentiable from all the original 16-bit games. For current audiences, Moonrider is too similar to the original games that inspired it.
Many retro titles nowadays focus too much on recreating their source material and can overlook the areas of the games that fail to meet modern standards. However, games like Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider and studios like JoyMasher still find a lot of success. The original 16-bit genre of games is so strong and unique that it can still appeal to many players, and it’s likely that gamers will see more retro 16-bit games in the future.
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