By Andy Skelton
With the global popularity of Pokémon, many companies have attempted to create creature battle games to compete. Many of those games, however, have failed, either by straying too far, or staying too close to the source material. Moonrise, in development by Undead Labs, is a new offering in the creature battle arena, and while it does stay fairly close to its roots, it has a few branches out there that definitely differentiate it from other similar games. We had a chance to sit down and play the demo version at PAX South, and initial signs point to a very solid experience.
Character creation in Moonrise seems quite simple, but does offer a nice bit of customization as well. We’ve also been informed that even more customization options unlock throughout the course of gameplay, which will add to the uniqueness of the character you create. The game then throws you into a tutorial where you get to pick your first Solari between a fire, water, or nature creature. Solari, as the game explains, are peaceful creatures that become corrupted by the Moonrise event occurring. These Lunari then cause widespread havoc and destruction for a period of time until the Moonrise wanes. This time, however, there is something wrong, and the Moonrise is not abating, so your character goes to become a Warden to fight against the growing chaos.
Honestly, a simple story is best for a game of this nature, and Moonrise delivers on that front. Your Warden-in-Training then learns the basics of combat where we learned the first difference between other creature battlers: your character can also attack. Since such a simple addition can add such a layer of depth to a game, I was surprised no one (at least that I know of) had thought of it before. In fact, battles can be ended by defeating trainers, instead of their creatures, which heaps on even more depth to the combat system.
Combat, too, is quite refreshing. Rather than inputting commands and resolving them turn by turn, Moonrise offers real time battles. This always gives you something to do, since you can have two Solari on the field at once, in addition to your own attack commands. Creatures come in one of six different elements: fire, water, nature, stone, electric, and basic. Basic creatures have no strengths against the other elements, but are also not weak against others either.
Catching new Solari is a bit of a grind, from what I gathered. Each time you win a battle, you cleanse the Lunari into is peaceful self. Should it want to travel with you (a somewhat rare occurrence, at least for me), you can use a key to take it with you. More keys can be obtained through play, so you don’t need to worry about running out of them.
One amazing aspect I found about Moonrise was the skill system. Each Solari can have up to three skills at a time. However, say there’s a skill you want on one of your benched Solari. Players can simply take a skill off a monster and offer it to another. Of course like TM limitations in Pokemon, some skills can never be learned by certain Solari, such as water skills being unavailable to fire creatures, but its a simple, delightful system to customization your team that is not often found, especially in mobile takes on the sub-genre. Additionally, certain item drops found through quests and dungeons can be used to customize a creature’s stat distribution. Want a powerful fighter? Use a bunch of strength essence. Need a tank? Build up their defense! There’s quite a range of customization there for you, so feel free to create whatever fantastic beast you’d like.
Being a mobile game, there’s always the elephant in the room when it comes to energy or other sorts of gating mechanics. Since most of Moonrise focuses on battling, you’ll be happy to know you can do as much of that as you want — Player versus Player included. Game modes that feature loot items, such as dungeons and PvP tournaments do require tickets to enter, so you’ll be limited on both of those options. These tickets respawn over time like any other energy system though, so you never need to worry about buying more, unless you really have to do another dungeon right that instance.
If you’ve played anything similar to Neverwinter’s Sword Coast Adventures, dungeons in Moonrise will look familiar. For me, this is a good thing. The goal of each dungeon is to unlock the boss room by completing objectives found on the map. Most of the time, these objectives are going to be combat based, but sometimes there will be merchants, or other unique events to view. Each time you complete an event, you unlock additional rewards, but you can only get the rewards for defeating the boss of the dungeon. While your creatures automatically heal after every encounter on the world map, you do not get this benefit in dungeons, so it becomes a race to try and complete as many objectives as you can while keeping your creatures healthy enough from the gauntlet of random encounters to stand a chance against the final boss. It sounds somewhat complex in written form, but it’s still fairly intuitive to follow once you’re experiencing the content.
There will be some micro-transactions available in the game, however, most of these are either cosmetic, ticket refills, or slot machine style awards, so there’s no pay-to-win scenario going on. It’s always nice to know you’ll be able to experience the game without needing to hand over uncomfortable amounts of cash.
From the initial testing, Moonrise is definitely shaping up to be a very strong mobile game, providing a great deal of content absolutely free. In fact, many people were coming back to the booth a second or third time, just to play through more to try and capture more creatures, or just to try and experience things they may not have on their first trip around. Considering some of the lines people were experiencing at PAX South, and that they were willing to wait for this game alone, that definitely indicates a strong, strong future for Moonrise.