Moonscars, developed by Black Mermaid and published by Humble Games, is a dark Metroidvania platformer with light recursive elements. The gameplay had its ups and downs, but the narrative vision alone was a morose delicacy akin to playing a Greek tragedy.

The unwelcoming environment and crumbling castle were constructed of delicately brash brushstrokes synthesizing a view of Castle Dracula illustrated by Claude Monet. Moonscars explored emotion, humanity, and philosophy in its interactions with characters, constructed of varying amounts of clay, flesh, and ichor. Shunned and revived by her creator, Grey Irma, a distraught clayborne warrior, searched for her fallen comrades through the use of special mirrors laid out across the world. I had to be careful because using the mirror sometimes spawned a doppelganger to fight me with my own abilities if we ever crossed paths again

Taken as a whole, the narrative was an homage to well-known stories of creation, identity, and nihilism spanning multiple genres from Isaac Asimov to Samuel Beckett, but with the advantage of allowing me to interact directly with the details. The only disadvantage was the stretched-out period where I wandered around aimlessly in-between combat and important events.

I enjoyed everything about the retro simplistic movement and combat. Small slashes, a charge attack, and a dash were all I needed to chain enemies into a stunlocked paralysis. If timed well, my inputs also chained together for significant air travel to get into spots before I acquired the necessary power-up to extend my dash. Here I found items that permanently increased my health, damage, and ichor – the game’s version of mana. These unspoken incentives to master movement and combat continuously fed into my nostalgic love for the genre.

The extra moves and magical abilities didn’t draw much attention to themselves. However, after slaying enough monsters, I was presented with a random selection of three passive attributes to increase my crit chance, my healing, or my ichor management. These only stacked five times and significantly impacted my overall damage but were lost upon death or upon using the mirror depending on story progression.

The mirrors were practically unavoidable, for they served as set save points on the map, upgraders, teleporters, and advanced the story, so the game’s pacing suffered every time my passives were inevitably erased. This, coupled with the blood moon that made random enemies more resilient if I died, was meant to make the game more difficult, but cutting my DPS in half and increasing enemy health bars without changing attack patterns turned fights into uninteresting slogs to earn my passives again. If I died, I could collect my corpse and my resources, but I had little use for the currency.

The beginning area was nothing to write home about, but once inside the castle, the map was laid out in typical Metroidvania fashion with distinct zones, non-linear progression, and secret chambers. While Moonscars stuck to tried-and-true Metroidvania design, it also had a few bugs that prevented map progression, so I lost myself many times wondering if I had missed something important, or the game was too obtuse, while my paranoia that the game had broken steadily rose. This only exacerbated the sluggish crawl my playthrough had become at this point.

I like the combat and the map, and I think this is possibly my favorite soulslike story of the year. I hope the bugs get fixed on launch day, and my fingers are crossed that that is enough to remedy the pacing because those two things nearly ended my playthrough prematurely. Take this as my woeful recommendation – yet another delicious Greek tragedy.

Moonscars is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, and PC for $19.99 and is available on Xbox Game Pass.

Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Moonscars.

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