Moonstone (Third Review)

Title		Moonstone (A Hard Day's Knight) (Third Review)
Game Type	RPG
Company		Mindscape
Players		1-4
HD Installable	Yes (With Patch)
Compatibility	All (With Patch)
Submission	Rob Taylor

"God is dead; but considering the state the species Man is in, there will
perhaps be games, for ages yet, in which his shadow will be shown"
Nietzsche: Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft

A sacred time is upon the people, a time that descends only once every
thousand years. As the Druids will be only too happy to tell you, this is
the season of the Moonstones! But to earn such a great prize, first you
must prove yourself. Dare you enter the Valley of the Gods to vanquish the
fearsome guardian, claim the ultimate prize and earn your place amongst
the heavens?


If another game has the ability to set your pulse racing quite as much as
the premise behind this one, then I'd really like to hear about it…

The gameworld of Moonstone essentially consists of two sections.
Turn-based movement, influenced by the differing phases of the moon, takes
place on a world map where up to four players (knights) are represented.
The land is divided into four neighbouring territories: plains, wastelands,
forests and wetlands, each being home to one of the quest knights. Any
non-human players become hostile computer-controlled knights emanating
from the Dark Hall of Purity, an order that exists with the sole intention
of cutting our hero(es) into lots of tiny little pieces.

Moonstone is, at heart, a single screen hack’n’slash fighter interspersed
with a number of light but welcome RPG elements. After they have chosen
their quest knight and begun to traverse the world map, players soon find
themselves confronted by a wide range of hostile adversaries, each of
which require differing tactics to dispose of. And now the real fun begins…

From the behemoth Baloks of the Northern Wastes to the terrifying Mudmen
of the Wetlands (the discordant shriek from the organ as they rise from
the mud to drag unwary knights to their doom in the putrid depths still
causes me heart palpitations even today!), these creatures will test your
fighting mettle to the limits. Slaughter them, raid their lairs and claim
their spoils. Find the four keys to the Valley; kill any opposing knights,
the dragon and the guardians along the way before claiming your Moonstone
and, with it, immortality. Simple!

Gameplay on the battlefield is intuitive and combat, without exception,
flows beautifully. A range of satisfyingly meaty thrusts and parries lie
at your disposal, naturally varying in power and speed of execution.
Meanwhile, the ability to throw daggers constitutes attacking from afar.
Collision detection is spot on, and as such players will rarely feel
cheated when they die, save for one or two “no escape” situations when
facing multiple enemies. Just don't mention the near-invincible red
dragon, the scourge of many a Moonstone gamer over the years…

As touched upon previously, the rich game world of Moonstone complements
its arcade action with a number of RPG elements. Along with a varying
selection of spoils, victories on the battlefield also bring much-needed
experience points that can then be invested into increasing a knight's
endurance, constitution or strength levels. But beware: as your quest
knight gains in ability, his monstrous opponents attack in ever higher
numbers! (This kinda defeats the whole object of becoming tougher
methinks, but when combat is this much fun who cares? More bad guys to
butcher I say!)

Between bouts of butchery, quest knights can take time out to journey to
the settlements of Highwood and Waterdeep. There they can engage in a
little gambling, trade items and battle equipment with merchants, buy
wards and charms from the High Temple or pay a visit to either a healer or
the clairvoyant, Mythral the Mystic. Opportunities also exist to visit
Math the Wizard for guidance or even seek assistance from the Gods
themselves at Stonehenge, but I always preferred to get on with the
business of killing!

For those nostalgic gamers amongst you, who have become jaded with today's
generic textures and instead hanker for the days of painstakingly
hand-drawn, sumptuous 2D visuals, Moonstone will certainly not disappoint.
For a title released in 1991, stunning near-cartoon quality introductory
and ending sequences of the game frame the exciting tale perfectly. The
world map is similarly rich and well animated, with a host of diverse
locales to visit between the numerous battle grounds.

Combat graphics are mouth-watering; well-animated and bursting with life
and character. Yet, after a few minutes of playing, Moonstone’s true
legacy in the gaming world becomes only too apparent: gore. Mindscape's
effort was a true pioneer in this respect, with the battlefield resembling
a charnel-house when you had finishing hacking and slashing your way
through seemingly unending legions of cannon-fodder. Limbs fly and the
blood flows in rivers, and, in a great touch, corpses do not disappear
when slain like in some contemporary titles. In Moonstone they just keep
piling up, and the effect is truly something to behold. As testament to
its sickness Moonstone was actually banned in Germany, where I am reliably
informed the authorities are fairly sensitive regarding such matters…

Also undoubtedly worth a mention is computer game music veteran Richard
Joseph's sparsely utilised but nevertheless stunning score which further
adds to Moonstone's wonderfully evocative atmosphere of prevailing doom.
From the jolly“Olde-England” ballad that accompanies your wretched
efforts at gambling in squalid taverns to the Arabesque Eastern twang when
you pay a visit to Mythral the Mystic, the standard was everything we've
come to expect from Mr. Joseph. Not to mention the dread evoking dirge
that set the mood of the game, and its use to such stunning effect during
the loading screens before each tense encounter. Sampled sound effects are
of a similarly high standard – every grunt, roar and screech is
devastatingly realistic, and for you true sadists within the gaming
community even the sound of blood pumping from severed limbs and arteries
is included!

As with all games, classic or otherwise, this slightly unpolished gem does
contain its fair share of flaws. Perhaps a few more months development
time could have ironed out the frequent crashes in the Amiga version, or
at the very least Mindscape could have implemented a save or password
feature to save putting gamers off and the breaking of many a joystick in
frustration! More enemies, more locations, more equipment and a larger,
scrolling, world map would have been similarly welcome, the quest will be
completed far too quickly for most players' likings. The game does have
the option of up to four players, but what about human knights temporarily
joining forces to simultaneously attack lairs and share the spoils? This
would have added a further element of strategy to the proceedings. More
disappointment is to be found in the under-utilisation of the moon phases,
which could have been an amazing innovation if implemented correctly. Yet,
despite these nitpickings, Moonstone still shone and the potential was
there (and still is!) for a killer sequel. Still, perhaps one day I'll get
my wish… ...sigh.

For further information on this wonderful title, please pay a visit to my
Moonstone Tavern at Therein lies a complete
dissection of the game, as well as a history of the quest, an extensive
bestiary, battle tactics, movies and wallpapers for download and tons and
tons of gory screenshots that will no doubt bring the memories flooding
back. Remember, the Gods await their new champion…

Category list.

Alphabetical list.