Moon’s sci-fi adventure offers up a successful control scheme for a DS shooter worthy of praise, but the title’s technical magic just doesn’t extend to the rest of the game. The plot of the slow-paced title is a muddy exploration of aliens and all things extra-terrestrial – with references as hip as Roswell – that casts you as Major Edward Kane in charge of the EEO (Extra-terrestrial Encounter Organization). You are tough, military hardened, and you have definitely met yourself before in countless other shooter roles. Freshly transported to Lunar Base Alpha your investigation kicks off with some missing crew members and a gun, the latter of which holds great gaming promise. You are promptly sent down a hatch (no, not that hatch) in hot pursuit of alien lifeforms, but Moon never quite fulfills the promise of eerie sci-fi adventure.
The controls are simple and you will have them down pat before the end of the Prologue. The stylus controls the reticle for your character’s direction and aim. Depending on your lefty-righty status you will use one of the triggers to shoot, and either the directional pad or the face buttons to move. The lower screen functions as a map while the upper screen shows your view. I suppose I’m not the hardiest of handheld gamers, but I had trouble finding a position that accommodated the otherwise solid control scheme and remained comfortable for more than a quarter of an hour at a time. This minor hitch is surely overwhelmed by the ability to smoothly strafe!
Switching between weapons – and your trusty robot drone – is done with the touch screen, making for easy swaps. Other actions like opening doors and examining objects are contextual and at the top of the touch screen. The weapons are satisfying, if a bit predictable, with we-live-in-the-future equivalents of an assault rifle, pistol, shotgun and sniper rifle among others. However, Moon isn’t so much a run-and-gun shooter as it is a plod and pick off.
The enemies appear most often as hovering sentries, humming like bugs and inspiring as much lethal enthusiasm as a gnat. They are easy to eliminate, health is as abundant as your limitless ammunition, and the result is completely un-engaging combat. Granted, enemies are spiced up with the occasional wall climbing robot, and boss battles are slightly more exciting, but I never really experienced mortal peril. For the most part, enemies gradually ramp up in difficulty without much discernible difference in appearance. This repetition and lack of challenge means that even defeating bosses isn’t satisfying as the overwhelming sameness destroys any feeling of progression.
Once the initial technical wonder wears off, Moon is a time-traveling trip to gaming on your PS1. Hallway after hallway, room after room, the environments are technically impressive and yet numbingly bland. The map is very limiting at times with no indication of where you have been, which in a sea of identical areas makes for an excess of back-tracking. The art just isn’t thrilling, and no amount of neon paint-by-number can improve sheer predictability and visual repetition. On the plus-side, there is never any slow-down. The sound is unimpressive, and I feel rotten just trying to explain how disappointing the persistent beeping and sporadic voice work is. It seems like the effort isn’t there, and it’s frustrating that a game can simultaneously show how much the DS is capable of technically and yet come up so short aesthetically.
What remains is gameplay based on navigating hallways and unlocking doors in environments whose only eerie component is that they all look so very much the same. Each mission has a primary objective, typically traversing some of the aforementioned halls or fighting a nastier incarnation of alien than the laser-equipped gnats. Playing as the drone allows you to deftly navigate ducts and otherwise inaccessible areas, while driving missions put you behind the wheel of a lunar rover. Getting through minefields is tedious with the clunky rover as you pick off alien drones, which makes for pretty un-fun driving gameplay.
There is no multi-player component, only a “Quickplay” option that has you choosing from completed game chapters, presumably for gamers driven to best their time and accuracy in a given level. Players can choose between Rookie, Normal or Veteran difficulty, which makes the title remarkably accessible. It is worth noting that if viewed from the perspective of a shooter for the younger set, Moon really is a good game for a kid too young for a mature title.
A darkly methodical FPS on the DS should be entirely refreshing but instead feels phoned in, as though Renegade Kid covered all the basics without tapping into a deeper gaming vision. It’s too bad that the proficient Moon is a disappointing example of how technical achievement is not enough to make a compelling game.