Man on the moon

These days, first-person shooters are a dime a dozen. Yet, Moon is a strange little game that stands out from the crowd.

These days, first-person shooters are a dime a dozen. Yet, Moon is a strange little game that stands out from the crowd.

It starts off much like any other shooter: You’re playing Major Kane, a military officer en route to the moon to investigate a strange hatch that’s appeared on the surface.

In the first few minutes of the game, your typical squad of astro-grunts is dispatched to investigate the area. Within five minutes you lose contact with your team, and by the time you arrive at the site they’re dead.

So what makes Moon special? Well, oddly enough, it’s the game’s mixture of anachronism and narrative. Since Moon has had a lot of attention over its ability to push the DS’s hardware to its limits, the “anachronism” bit may seem a little odd.

But play Moon for more than 10 minutes and you should be able to see what I’m talking about. The game, which has damn good graphics for an itty-bitty DS cartridge, looks like a relic from 1996.

The game also takes some definite cues, aesthetic and otherwise, from Doom, and especially Quake. Hell, one of the game’s weapons is almost a dead ringer for the BFG (aka the Big Fucking Gun) from Doom.

And the music—well, let’s just say it sounds as though John Carmack, Trent Reznor and Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka went on a drunken bender which ended with someone vomiting all over a synthesizer.

From the above description you’re probably thinking, “Wow, Moon must not be very good,” but that would be wrong.

Rather than creating a cringe-worthy experience that brings back memories of just how badly old favorites can age, the game takes its clear love of nostalgia and combines it with an interesting narrative that provides for good character development with shades of Soylent Green (kind of).

Keeping with the theme of “simple is better” (and also a hell of a lot easier to map controls for the DS, given the system isn’t very first-person friendly) the game actually plays a lot more like BioShock than any of Id Software’s old standbys.

There’s a lot more of an emphasis on exploring and gathering information than shooting, whether it’s alien artifacts that can be collected to unlock extra missions, the obligatory health (whose origins are disgusting, by the way) and ammo, or data about the mysterious moon-factory you’re in, and what it’s used for.

Like a good adventure game, Moon‘s story starts to unravel gradually. The game’s dual Mcguffins, your enemies and the nature of the large underground facilities you’re exploring, aren’t revealed until well into the game, and the characterization of Major Kane reveals he’s more than just a mindless grunt.

Not to worry—there’s plenty of gunplay to keep things interesting, as well. Moon requires you to have a pretty decent trigger … uh, stylus. There are plenty of enemy sentry robots and bosses to keep you busy as you travel through subterranean moon-tunnels, a setting which bears more than a passing resemblance to the PS1’s Mega Man Legends.

The baddies can be tough too—you’ve got to pay attention, be wary of kick back from your weapons and generally keep moving if you don’t want to get energy-beam pummeled to death. Thankfully, the controls, reminiscent of Metroid Prime: Hunters, are pretty easy to get the hang of.

Basically, you can shoot, move around and use environmental objects contextually. Occasionally, you’re forced to use a remote controlled robot to puzzle through impassible barriers, but its controls are no more sophisticated than Major Kane’s.

Personally, I think this game could have benefited from a jump button, but I can see why the folks at Renegade Kid didn’t include one given the near-awkward (but necessary) control set up, which uses the stylus to spin around and the d-pad to move forward, back or strafe while shooting with the left trigger.

Moon, then, is definitely not a game you can really play on the go, at least not comfortably. But that doesn’t make it any less fun. (Who really plays portable games on the go anyway?) And, goofy controls aside, the buzz is right—Renegade Kid packed a lot of power into this little cartridge.

The game runs smooth as silk at 60 frames per second—a feat that many PS3 and Xbox 360 games don’t even achieve. Despite the game’s (mostly) unapologetically old-school feel, Renegade Kid’s technical mastery of the DS’s current-gen hardware is evident everywhere.

The character models, large, textured environments, missions in the LOLA moon vehicle (think Halo‘s warthog and you’ve got the idea) and cinemas all go off without a hitch. Not bad for a smaller release game that probably would have been completely lost in the pre-Christmas shuffle had it hit store shelves on its original release date in early December.

Moon certainly isn’t for everyone. But with the DS market badly oversaturated with casual games, games for the kiddies and a crapload of shovelware as it is, there aren’t too many worthwhile first-person shooters out there, aside from Hunters and Renegade Kid’s own debut title, Dementium: The Ward.

The game’s mix of old-school feel and new technology might foster a nice, if false, sense of nostalgia, but for fans of the genre, Moon will likely win you over with its straightforward charm, and the narrative will keep you entertained.

But if Moon has a highlight, it’s definitely the LOLA mooncraft—out of all the weirdness and intense (for a DS game) action, driving on the moon’s surface is the most giddy part of the game, and that’s probably as emblematic to its spirit as you can get.