Another day, another attempt to replicate the Metroidvania titles of yore. Moon Raider is an attractive, yet wholly unremarkable game with barely a sliver of originality. Taking place on, well, the moon, you take on the role of Ava, whose mother has fallen ill. In a brief, rather poorly constructed introductory cutscene featuring largely static images and accompanying text, it turns out Ava’s mother is Queen of the Selenites, a hostile race that inhabits the moon. In order to save her mother, Ava must travel there and locate the cure.
Almost everything about Moon Raider is achingly average. It’s not a bad game, by any means, but there’s unfortunately nothing here that stands out amongst its peers. Graphically, it’s cheery and colourful, with decent environmental design and animations. However, the character design falls completely flat; the enemy Selenites look like what a toddler’s vision of an alien would look like, with bulbous heads and big, black eyes, and Ava herself is a bland protagonist with no unique features.
Right from the start, there’s something about the gameplay that feels a little… off. The controls are relatively typical of 2D action titles and actually feel quite similar to Mega Man (albeit with an added double jump ability), but a distinct lack of polish makes the moment-to-moment gameplay feel rough. There are moments where Ava will freeze in place for a fraction of a second, and it’s as if the game can’t quite grasp the concept of performing two different moves at the same time. So basically, if you try to jump and shoot at the same time, Ava will essentially throw a miniature tantrum and just stop. These occurrences don’t last long enough to break up the gameplay, as such, but they’re absolutely long enough to become an irritation.
The game is split into levels — or zones — that largely feel fairly linear, despite numerous branching paths that lead to secrets or collectibles. The cure to your mother’s ailment is fragmented and scattered throughout the levels, and the game encourages the brand of exploration you’d expect from the genre, which works well enough. You’ll also come across various unlocked doors, and these can be opened by pulling the plug in a nearby location, killing the power supply and opening the doorway. This can also be used in other scenarios like disabling a gun turret or freeing captured creatures.
Despite some reasonably pretty visuals, the game’s sound design and audio falls disappointingly short. Every enemy gives an annoyingly unrealistic yelp upon death (think of the Wilhelm scream, but take it down an octave), which you can imagine becomes intolerable after a while. The music is consistently forgettable, with no standout tracks, and nothing that elevates the gameplay or setting. If you’re playing in handheld mode, you’ll want to crank up the volume in the settings, as its default setting is way too low, even with the hardware’s volume cranked up to maximum.
To an extent, we feel we’re being hard on Moon Raider, but compared to the plethora of excellent Metroidvania titles on Switch, this title is just ‘all right’. It’s not bad, but its various flaws mean it’s certainly not great, either. At around three hours in length, there are absolutely worse ways to spend your time, and the game does also include a neat co-op option to increase its longevity somewhat. Ultimately though, if you’re after a thrilling, memorable 2D action title with a dash of originality, this sadly isn’t it.