Hands-on Impressions of Moonrise, a Solid Mobile Creature Collection RPG
PAX South was full of soon-to-be released titles from a variety of studios that range in size from two person teams, to full on AAA-sized staffs of 50 or more employees. One of the standout games that I had a chance to play at the show comes from Undead Labs and Kabam called Moonrise, which is a free-to-play mobile multiplayer RPG with hints of Pokemon, thanks to its focus on creature collection. This touch-based title is in development for iOS and Android devices with the promise of cross-device play courtesy of a Facebook login, and is set to release sometime in 2015.
Moonrise is set in a vibrant world where the Moonrise event covers the land in shadow, transforming the Solari creatures into evil Lunari baddies that must be defeated to vanquish their curse and hopefully bring them over to your cause to fight the good fight. You play as a Warden, who are human characters that look like punk rockers and hipsters complete with bright clothes and zany hair styles. It’s your job to free the world of Lunari by challenging them with your own set of special powers, as well as those of your captured Solari, who fight for you like loyal pets. In addition to the PvE gameplay, Moonrise also features a PvP mode where players can challenge other players with their team of Solari, or through pre-determined random card draws.
Before I get into the gameplay I have to comment on the visual aesthetic of Moonrise, which looks amazing running on an iPad Air 2. The game world is very bright and colorful, and so are the Wardens, Solari, and Lunari. The color palette reminded me of Viva Piñata without the paper mache influence. Unlike other mobile titles most of the lines were smooth and devoid of the somewhat blocky polygon look that can plague other high-end smartphone/tablet games. The Solari and Lunari all have varied designs, and the Wardens can be customized to the cows come home to give yours a distinct look. The game really looks fantastic, and proves that the lines between mobile titles and traditional games are starting to blur, which is a testament to the Unity Engine that the team used to create the game.
What Moonrise does even better than visuals is gameplay. The touch controls are perfect and very easy to use and master for the game’s RPG-like battles. Battles play out like old school JRPGs, but they’re not time-based, everything happens real-time, so if you wait too long to make moves you’ll get your ass handed to you. In battle your Warden has his/her own set of moves, and so do the Solari you bring to the fray. Players can keep up to six Solari active in their party at a time, but during a fight only two can be used at once. Although, you can swap the characters in and out, so all sorts of strategies can begin to take place. It’s similar to the battle system in the first two Final Fantasy XIII titles, which is easily the best aspect of those maligned FF experiments.
Both the Warden and Solari have elemental powers that need to be leveraged against the Lunari and evil Wardens to help win the day. For example, if a Lunari is susceptible to heat attacks a red up arrow will display letting you know that you can cause additional damage with a fire-based attack. On the other hand a dark arrow will appear when you’re trying to use an attack that won’t have a drastic effect on the bad creatures and Wardens. You must constantly keep your forces in motion while paying attention to what attacks will deal the most damage. This is where the touch controls shine because they make it very easy to input three sets of offensive or defensive maneuvers quickly as you tap your way to victory.
Outside of searching the wilderness for Lunari to capture, which in turn can be transformed back into Solari to become a member of your creature collection, there are dungeons and hub worlds to explore. What impressed me the most about the hub worlds is the fact that the developers didn’t make you use virtual joystick controls to get around. You just simply drag the screen with your finger and your Warden will walk towards the area you’re focusing on. Mobile games are a blast, but the virtual joystick leaves much to be desired, so I really appreciated the movement featured in Moonrise.
The dungeons on the other hand play out more like the wilderness hunts except your health doesn’t auto-restore, so you must plan accordingly by bringing potions and such that can be purchased at the hub world. Dungeons also require tickets to enter, which can be purchased in-game, or reset after a certain amount of time passes. Moonrise is definitely not pay-to-win, but it will offer shortcuts to those willing to part with some cold hard cash.
Even if you’re hesitant when it comes to the free-to-play model I still urge you to check out Moonrise when it releases later this year. It looks fantastic, features addictive RPG gameplay tropes, and a hint of Pokemon thanks to the Solari you can collect and nurture to fight the good fight by your side. Best of all it can go with you during your travels to give you a bit gaming in between your daily to-do list without requiring a heavy time investment, or barriers that encourage you to pay for goods to progress the game.
Stay tuned for more on Moonrise news as it gets closer to launch!
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