Bev Chen
23 Apr, 2011

Moon Diver Review

PS3 Review | Are you a bad enough dude to dive into the moon?
Things have been a little quiet on the Square Enix front recently. Games like Dissidia 012 and The 3rd Birthday seem to have snuck onto the market with little hype, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution still lurks teasingly over the horizon. But the latest title that has got a few tongues wagging is, interestingly enough, a downloadable game released on Sony’s PlayStation network (and soon to come for Xbox Live Arcade) called Moon Diver. Sure, you may have heard the title somewhere, but what is the game actually about? And is it any good?

Well, first things first – despite our blurb, this isn’t some kind of bizarre sports game where diving into the moon is the main attraction (although admittedly, that would be an interesting game to play). Moon Diver’s premise is a bit more mundane than that, focusing around a group of five characters (the Moondivers) trying to stop a boy from wiping all life from the face of the planet. The story does tend to plod along, due to the fact that any narrative progression is shoehorned in before the level begins. Cut-scenes comprise of static images and text floating across the screen, they are quite pleasing to look at.

Stopping a boy and killing all his meatpuppets.

Stopping a boy and killing all his meatpuppets.
As for the gameplay, Moon Diver is a beat ‘em up platformer reminiscent of old classics like Strider or Shinobi. It works just as you would expect – you have a basic slash move, a charged slash, a dashing attack and an attack that deploys whenever you execute a double jump. In addition to this, you have up to 60 MoonSault Combinations (the game’s fancy way of describing special attacks, and they do consume MP) at your disposal, which are shared between all the characters. Cleverly, up to four of these can be assigned to the D-Pad for easy access. There are a fair few MoonSault Combos that when activated, for some strange reason, play a short clip of your character striking a pose and performing the attack. The question is, why tack these on for some attacks and not all? It was extremely jarring for us the first time we noticed it happen, and we still wonder why the developer even bothered if they weren’t going to make a cinematic for each move.

Stages in the game are broken up into sections, each consisting of platformer-esque areas. These do get rather repetitive after some time, not only because of the minimal variation in enemies, but also because of the drab colour scheme of every area. To its credit, Moon Diver is quite forgiving should you make a mistake. For example, falling into a hole won’t instantly kill you, but cloak you in a purple fog that chips away at your health until you jump out. As for combat, while it is fun to hack and slash at waves of enemies for a few levels, it does tend to get annoying, especially when the game traps you in an area and expects you to kill every last enemy when they keep flying out of your view.

Poor, poor, Player One.

Poor, poor, Player One.
These typical action game components aside, Moon Diver adds another element that is quickly gaining popularity – RPG elements. Like most games, killing enemies gives experience points, which levels up your character. Each character has a different stat build (ie. More focused on power or more focused on developing MP), and levelling up gives you points to spend on upgrading these. What about MoonSault Combos though? Instead of being rewarded one when you gain a level, or even being able to buy them, they are found scattered throughout levels. As we mentioned before however, the levels are quite dull, and it may simply be the case that you can’t be bothered exploring each level to the fullest.

A major aspect of Moon Diver’s gameplay is co-operation, which is especially obvious in the way the MoonSault combo system works. Certain MoonSault Combos allow other players to join in on the action, at no cost to their MP. The only thing they need to do is hit Circle when the game tells them to. This isn’t just limited to offensive MoonSault Combos, though; a few of them allow you to heal all the characters in your party, or give you reduced damage. Co-op gameplay also serves to facilitate another of the game’s major features - a drop-in system that supports up to three other players. The importance of having other players with you becomes apparent in later parts of the game, when enemy waves get larger and more damage is dealt. Add to the fact that difficulty doesn’t scale according to how many players are in your party, and it quickly becomes a case of ‘the more the merrier’. There is also local co-op, although we found that it didn’t function quite as well. This is because we discovered that the player’s progress in the story is tied directly to the characters you play as, so when we tried experimenting with different character combinations, we were forced to start the game all over again.

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends.

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends.
Certainly, there isn’t anything on the downloadable game market quite like Moon Diver, but that doesn’t make it a must-buy. It has some good ideas in the MoonSault Combo system, its fast-paced gameplay and its heavy emphasis on co-operation, but decisions like a half-baked storyline and repetitive level design will be a major deal-breaker for many. Give it a whirl if you have loads of friends, and you all have a lot of stress to burn off. A lot.
The Score
Moon Diver isn’t the next big thing in the 2D action platform genre, nor is it Square Enix’s new instant classic. It does have some good ideas, but lazy design decisions and the repetitive stages do bring it down a few notches.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 years ago
What put me off was the visual style, it would have looked a lot better if the character models were sprite-based because the art style is really cool. Like they did with Hard Corps.
3 years ago
I love me some 2D side scrolling action, that's a given, but for me, the controls just felt floaty if you know what I mean. It just didn't feel precise.

PALGN wrote
A major aspect of Moon Diver’s gameplay is co-operation
Damn my stingy friends for not wanting to pay more then 5 bucks for a DLC game! It looks okay as a multiplayer game. Also agreed with Jahanzeb, Sprite > 3D models anyday!
3 years ago
Was quite interested in this as I think it was directed by the guy that did Strider and from the vids looked like it would be fun in a similar kinda way. Might wait for a price drop.
3 years ago
I never got to play Strider. My exposure to the side scrolling ninja action genre consists of the Shinobi series (that reminds me! I gotta grab the Saturn sequel!!!!) and Legend of Kage (didn't really like the DS game). Missed out on the pre-Xbox Ninja Gaiden games.
3 years ago
Strider is pretty fun. I've only played it on one of the Capcom Classic Collections, not at the arcade or anything. It's probably not worth going out of your way to play. I like the character (from using him in MvC & NamcoXCapcom), so I probably played it a fair bit more than I would've if it was just a generic ninja character.

I've played one of the Shinobi games on the Megadrive and it was awesome (but I can't remember which one it was). Had a go of the PS2 version as well, but it didn't really grab me. I only picked up an NES a while back, so I haven't played the 2D Ninja Gaiden games. Heard they're great, but pretty hard.
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