game reviews and playing tips: Nintendo DS game reviews
Reviewed March 2009 by Edmund Wong
Developer: Renegade Kid
Release Date: January 2009
ESRB Rating: E
Genre: First Person Shooter
When you look up into the night sky and see the moon, what do you see? A rabbit? Or perhaps a hatch? Or maybe even an alien? Well, wonder no more. All thanks to Renegade Kid, now you can go up to the moon and check it out for yourself. But let me warn you first. It is not going to be pretty.
The year is 2058. The place: our Moon. You are one Major Kane, a member of the Extra Terrestrial Encounter Organization. You and your fellow members are called upon by the military (who else?) to investigate a hatch opening that was found on the Moon. Much of the information about the hatch is unknown. We do not know why it was there, and we do not know how it got there. Obviously the many astronauts of the Apollo missions have failed to notice a big hatch, or did they? Anyway, back to the plot.
At the start of the game, you and your fellow members have just landed on the Moon, getting ready to explore whatever it is that is hidden behind the hatch. A loud bang and several dead bodies later, you are left to find the reminding survivors in the inner sanctum of the alien structure, with the good old trusty "super" assault rifle in hand.
Moon is a typical Sci-Fi adventure game. The story is told through log terminals that litter the place. You obviously have to find them to piece together the whole story. The characters are also typical. Kane is a soldier that follows orders without so much a question. His superior officer is an idiot and strictly keeps everything on a need-to-know basis, which is everything, and his other companion is a techno junkie. Throughout the game, you will be in constant communication with them. The conversation is not exactly engaging, since Kane's boss always remind you that "you have a job to do". Blah, blah, blah. And even when there is something interesting being said, she will cut you off because you don't need to know.
First and foremost, Moon is a FPS. Control is very simple. The shoulder button is for shooting things, while the D-pad (or face buttons for lefties) is used for movement. Use the touch screen to point at targets and directions where you want to travel. It might feel a bit strange at first, but it will become second nature as you dwell deeper into the game.
There is not much to do on the moon's surface (save for some rover action that will be discussed later), most of the game involves getting under the moon's surface and into the network of crammed hallways and tunnels guarded by crawling robots, flying robots, laser cannons, grenade launchers, turrets, armed aliens, big bosses, etc.
As you descend into the unknown, you will find a map of the facility rather quickly and the places you need to go are well marked on the said map. It then becomes your task to go to the said location and do whatever it is that needs doing. It could be as simple as collecting an item that you need to unlock doors, or revealing more areas, or collecting a new alien weapon even. At the end of each stage, you will most definitely come across a giant boss that you must defeat.
Truth be told, the tasks are unimaginative and lacks variety. The story is fairly linear in nature: go here, get key, open door, go there, kill boss, run away. Rinse and repeat. That said, it does not mean it is not interesting. Corridors and halls are filled with enemies waiting to be blasted. There are times when you walk straight into the fray as soon as you enter a room. The AI can be quiet tough sometimes, as it will hunt you down once you have been discovered.
You initial weapon of choice is the super assault rifle, but despite being 'super', you will become a 'supper' soon should you stick with it. The rifle has unlimited ammo, but not at all powerful against the tougher enemies that lurk deeper in the compound. For that, you will discover weaponry of alien origin that you will have no difficulty in operating. Ammo and health bar are sometimes dropped after the enemy is killed. And you can replenish your health at save points that are clearly marked on the map.
In fact, everything is clearly marked on the map, save for secret passages. The map proves to be a very helpful tool in tracking where you are. That's because without a map, you will easily lose your way as every room and every hallway looks essentially the same. Not only does the map mark your destination, it also tracks places where you have been to make it easier for navigation.
What the map does not show is force field that will prevent Kane from going any further. For that, you will need to use a RAD. What's a RAD, you'd ask. RAD stands for Remote Access Droid, a remote control car, if you like, that you will acquire fairly early on in the game (Yes, it is yet another alien technology that you can use with ease). It travels in tight spaces that Kane cannot. And more often than not, it is used to disarm force fields. The RAD has other uses, such as disabling enemy robots with its stun gun and helping you to defeat a boss. One of its other major functions is to collect alien artifacts that unlock bonus stages.
RAD has its value in the game, but its usage is underutilized. As you switch between Kane and RAD, the other party is basically a sitting duck. Any of them can be turned into space dust if they are left to their own device. So if you plan to travel far using either, make sure that they are safe from any enemy fire before switching.
Just in case that playing with remote control car is not enough for you, there is a bigger version, the LOLA, a lunar rover of sort. The control is similar to controlling Kane, but the experience is vastly different. The D-pad (or face buttons) is used to control the car's movement, while the touch screen is used to aim the turret mounted on top of the vehicle. As usually, the shoulder button fires the deadly weapon at whatever it is that the turret is aiming at.
It might come as a surprise that while things found on the moon is all alien technology, the LOLA is of human origin. Maybe that is why it is difficult to control. The LOLA is mainly used on the moon's surface to travel from one place to another. Along the way, you will deal with a handful of traps, minefields, laser cannons, and whatever else that moon throws at you. Driving the LOLA is difficult. It is hard to negotiate corners, and very often, you will land yourself on mines or smash into the wall. It is not a particular fun part of the game, but it does break up the constant flow of similar looking hallways and rooms, giving that little extra variety of game play.
The overall gameplay is smooth and the control is one of the better control schemes on the DS. Changing weapons is as simple as touching the weapon to bring up the weapon screen and sliding to whichever one you fancy. Renegade Kid is to be commended for trying to provide a variety of gameplay, and to some extend, they succeed. You are not just treated with Kane and his trusty weapons, blasting from one compound to another. It would be much better if they can fix the LOLA's control and give more emphasis on the RAD other than deactivating force fields.
As a DS game, Moon provides a nice graphical environment in which to explore. There are blinking lights on control panels and moving parts on strange looking machineries. However, it must be said that the game feels repetitive after a while. Rooms might have a different color scheme, but very soon you will feel that you have been there before. Level design is not the game's strong point, and sadly, neither is the enemies. You can find the same flying robot in the later stages as you would in the first episode.
That said, the graphics presented is fluent. Moving the stylus quickly on the touch screen does not give so much a stutter. FMVs presented in Moon are smoothly rendered and really nice to look at.
Sound, on the other hand, is a mix bag. The BGM consists of excruciating and painful techno soundtracks which can cause your ears to bleed badly. Thankfully, it can be silenced through the options menu. Indeed, turning off the music will bring out the ambient sound nicely, whether it is the machines grinding away, or the enemies coming from afar, or the blast fest that you just had with the boss. Sound effects are a pleasant to listen to when comparing to the headache inducing soundtrack.
Moon boosts great replay value. Once your little RAD collects all the artifacts in a stage, a bonus stage is unlocked. They are a nice addition, but do expect to be more of the same. If you did not collect all the artifacts, you can choose to play through the episodes that you have completed. Moon has several difficult settings so you can play through them again should you find it too easy or too hard the first time through.
Moon is technically impressive. The control works, for the most part, smoothly and accurately. The RAD is a welcoming inclusion, though its use is limited. The LOLA is interesting when you are not being punished for your bad driving skills.
There is not that many FPS on the DS, and Moon fills up that void quite fittingly. It is not a very memorable game, nor is it remarkable or groundbreaking. The level design is not very innovative and the music sounds worse than nails screeching away on the blackboard, but despite all the bad things that are being said, Moon is still an enjoyable game, much in the way you enjoy watching an art house movie.
Playing Hints and Tips
- If you see a force field, it's time to bring out your RAD.
- Make sure you or the RAD is not in harm's way before switching between them.
- Remember to pick up the RAD every time you deploy it.
- Save at save points will replenish your health.
- Check the map to see where you are, and where you need to be heading.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Though somewhat repetitive, the graphics are rich. There are blinking lights and moving parts to give the game a sense of motion. The FMV are nicely rendered.
Turn off that screeching BGM, and you will live to hear another sound.
There is not much to explore, but there are plenty of things to blast, and a story to follow.
Despite every room and corridor looking like the one before, the game keeps you engaged. You would want to find out more and more about the story as you get deeper into the compound.