The release of Moon Chronicles is something of a watershed moment for the 3DS. In addition to being the first (and so far, only) first-person shooter on a platform that’s been on the market for more than three years, it also carries the rather hefty responsibility of being the system’s first episodic adventure in an era that has become defined by bite-sized content delivery. So regardless of whether the game is actually any good, it’ll have to stand up to some rather intense scrutiny as further episodes are delivered over the next several months. The good news is, this is a Renegade Kid joint we’re talking about; these guys could make a game about running around with a paper bag on your head and it’d probably be worth playing.
Moon Chronicles is an atmospheric first-person adventure that inserts players into the space suit of one Major Kane, a military man tasked with exploring a previously undiscovered facility beneath the surface of the Earth’s moon. And while there are plenty of things to shoot at — mostly in the form of basketball-sized sentry droids in this first episode, with a couple of bosses peppered in to keep things interesting — the game is less concerned with gunplay than it is with telling a good story. A mounting sense of dread permeates the entire experience, as bite-sized bits of narrative are revealed via computer terminals and the occasional coms chatter with Kane’s superiors, and it quickly becomes clear from the bodies piled throughout the facility that something sinister has been happening on our moon. The game’s approach to storytelling borrows heavily from Retro Studios’ Metroid games — the original DS version still stands as a better take on Metroid Prime than Nintendo’s own Metroid Prime Hunters — but it’s difficult to get a sense of where things are going as very little of the mystery is unraveled in this first episode.
So while Episode 1 feels like it ends before it even begins — the entire experience can be completed in just over an hour on standard difficulty — there are a couple of bonuses for players looking to eke more play out of their purchase. First, any completed chapter (there are 4 of them) can be replayed as a standalone experience, on any difficulty. Second, collecting the three hidden artifacts scattered throughout the game unlocks a bonus VR mission that lets players test their shooting skills with large waves of enemies to destroy.
Moon was a technical marvel on a system not known for its polygonal prowess, featuring complex level architecture and a rock-solid 60 frames of animation per second. The 3DS incarnation looks even better, with higher poly counts and sharper textures, though as a remake, it’s still built around the limitations of the original DS, meaning the same small set of environmental textures — while sharper — still tend to repeat from one area to the next. The one real significant upgrade that Renegade Kid worked into its Moon remaster is a new “twin stick” control scheme built around the 3DS’s optional Circle Pad Pro accessory, but the accessory is far too resistant to precision movement for my tastes; without any options to adjust sensitivity in game, aiming just feels like a chore. Having said that, stylus-based aiming remains the best alternative to traditional mouse and keyboard FPS controls, and Moon Chronicles does it better than anything else, with pixel-precise aiming that simply wasn’t possible on the original release due to the DS’s low resolution touch panel. No matter how you prefer to control the game, Renegade Kid has built in schemes for both righties and lefties, which is a welcome consideration on the part of the developer.
Players who discovered Renegade Kid through Mutant Mudds and the upcoming Treasurenauts might not realize the developer’s got some serious FPS chops, and while Moon Chronicles: Episode 1 is a small step in the right direction, it falls shy of the excellence we’ve come to expect from them simply because it’s over way too soon. If you’ve played Moon on the DS, you already know how great it is; if you haven’t and you find yourself disappointed by Episode 1, stick with it. I think you’ll find future episodes to be well worth the wait.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Moon Chronicles: Episode 1 is based on review copy provided to us by the developer shortly before the game’s release on May 15th, 2014. Remaining episodes are planned for release throughout 2014.