In The Name Of The Moon, She’ll Scar You
HIGH The most beautiful platformer I’ve seen in a long time.
LOW Character dialogue is surprisingly flat.
WTF RIP to the bone powder I spent an hour and a half farming for.
Developed by Black Mermaid and published by Humble Games, Moonscars is a dark, moody tale about (im)mortality, power, and, death… lots and lots of death. While I’m usually all for a creepy tale that encapsulates all of these components, Moonscars’s clunky mechanics, flat dialogue, and unyielding adherence to its ‘difficulty for difficulty’s sake’ framework ultimately robs it of its potential luster.
This is quite a shame given that the aesthetics are lustrous! The painterly landscapes in each map belie Moonscars’s gloomy atmosphere. When contrasted with the pixelated characters, cutscenes, and area maps, the result is truly lovely.
Moonscars follows the plight of Gray Irma, the sullen protagonist, and her journey to unearth the nature of her existence. Players must help Gray Irma recover her memories and locate the sculptor who created her. Her narrative arc is gradually unveiled by the characters she encounters. However, I found the conversations between Gray Irma and the characters she meets to be a bit flat, which impacted my engagement with the story from time to time.
Best described as a 2D soulslike, Moonscars offers many effective mechanics. Gray Irma can jump, scale walls (something I discovered during a happy accident), and ground pound. There’s even a dash feature that allows her to escape enemies in a pinch and also discover areas on the map that can’t be reached by jumping alone. There were moments of clunkiness when I was unable to dismount a ladder and the lack of camera mobility was a bit of a pain, but these hiccups weren’t annoying enough to deter me from continuing.
Moonscars’s straightforward controls are a lifesaver, especially given the difficult, perhaps even unforgiving, battle structure.
Although it’s marketed as an action-adventure, it takes cues from the soulslike genre. One of the most prominent (and frustrating!) examples of this linkage is apparent in Moonscars’s buffing system. Gray Irma must use two main sources of currency, glands and bone powder, to buff her weapons and develop her attacks. Glands are a bit more difficult to locate than bone powder, but the player doesn’t lose them upon death. Bone powder, on the other hand, disappears upon death — if the player dies before collecting the bone powder they’ve lost, the powder is lost for good, which is devastating.
Moonscars’s battle mechanics are relatively straightforward. There’s a dash feature, a standard attack, a power-up attack, and… parrying. I’m not going to lie, parrying can be tough. The enemies are merciless from the get-go, and there’s a learning curve associated with mastering parrying. It’s a frustrating reality where a successful parry often means the difference between life and death.
There are also special attacks that Gray Irma can perform called “witchery” used to give players an upper hand in battle. Players must first unlock the spell by spending bone powder, and once it’s in Gray Irma’s arsenal, players must draw from a limited power source to perform the spell. One of my personal favorites allows Gray Irma to hurl a parasite that emits a poisonous cloud that damages all enemies in her vicinity.
Shortly after my tenth death at the hands of the first boss I learned that grinding is a necessary aspect of Moonscars. While I’m not grind-averse, I found the process to be a bit grueling, especially given that bone powder is such a precarious commodity. That’s not to say that the grinding process wasn’t addicting. “Dammit! Just one more time” was a mantra I found myself repeating throughout the entire game, but after a while, one more time became way too many times.
Had it not been for my stubborn ego and innate curiosity I probably would have abandoned Moonscars. It’s really a shame, because the world that Gray Irma inhabits is so compelling! I wanted to love the characters and truly delve into their stories, but I had to stop myself from rushing through the dialogue at times. Beating Moonscars felt really satisfying, but this was mostly due to the fact that I had found a way to withstand its brutality until the very end.
Moonscars has so much potential, but its ruthless battle format and flat character dialogue left much to be desired. There’s no denying that it’s beautiful and the customization of weapons and attacks makes the character-building process exciting, but I was still left wanting more bang for my buck, and less doom for my gloom.
— Taylor Pryor
Disclosures: This game is developed by Black Mermaid and published by Humble Games. It is currently available on XBO/S/PS4/PS5/Switch/PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 15 hours of play went into this game, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Partial Nudity, and Violence. Because combat is essential to progress in Moonscars, bloodshed and violence are inescapable. Therefore, parents should proceed with caution if this is an issue. Some of the women in the game wear revealing clothing, but there is no full-frontal nudity.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Moonscars offers subtitles, but they cannot be resized. Audio cues do not hinder game progression and controller vibrations can be modified to make navigating the landscape more seamless. Therefore, the game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable.