The concept of the side-scrolling beat-em-up is considered by some to be a dead genre. Now that we've moved on to the world of three dimensions, old 2D side-scrolling is a laughable idea to some, outside of games with the intent of creating nostalgia or the special innovative indie hits. And while the genre does hold a place in many old-school gamers' hearts, it's almost impossible for it to work on its own in the mainstream gaming world, with only few games doing it right (i.e. LittleBigPlanet).
So, credit goes to Square Enix for putting a new spin on it, with their newest downloadable title Moon Diver. Instead of being a pure side-scroller, the game would also have elements of Square's trademark, the Japanese RPG. Characters level up and cast spells as well as hack and slash through waves of enemies. Does it hold up to other beat-em-ups that many know and love? Read on for our full review.
At its core, the beat-em-up aspect of Moon Diver really isn't that different from any other beat-em-up. Run from point A to point B, and if someone gets in your way, kill them. Not too difficult to understand. But that's a good thing, because someone can easily pick up their controller and get to playing right away without having to go through too much trouble. It starts off fairly easy as well, as many enemies go down in one hit. Not all of them, but the basic goons do, allowing you to rack up a few kills right away. And the more kills you get, the more EXP you get.
Which brings me to the RPG elements of this game, which unfortunately.... weigh the game down considerably. If you want to progress in Moon Diver, you have to level up. And if you have to level up, you have to grind. Now, in an RPG, this is to be expected, and you often have to do less of it at the beginning of the game. But in a beat-em-up, you expect to just go from beginning to end as fast as possible. In fact, that was usually the point of the game, as faster times meant higher scores. But since the concept of high scores without reward is pretty much dead now, that's not an issue.
The issue lies in how you level up. After you kill a certain number of enemies, you level up. Every time you level up, you gain a stat point to go towards your health, magic or power. However, you can't do this during a level. Meaning that, if you want to upgrade your stats, you have to either finish the level you're currently playing (or die), upgrade your stats, and then start over. Oh, and there's another problem, you only get one life. You die once, and you have to start the level all over again.
And you will want to level up, as the difficulty of the game ramps up pretty high. You don't get a lot of health or magic to start with, and even with constant items to regenerate those, you'll find yourself unexpectedly dying a number of times as early as the first level. That may not be a bad thing if you're looking for a challenge, but again, the fact that you have to start all over again once you die only makes the game seem tedious instead of difficult.
I will say that the music used for Moon Diver is well done. The overall tone of the music felt like a side-scroller and brought back memories of a lot of the classics, particularly the Mega Man X series. It puts you in the right mood for a simple game that'll be a lot of fun and a good way to kill an afternoon.
Overall, Moon Diver can either be good or bad depending on your mindset when you go into it. If you're looking for a challenge and are willing to commit to it, then you should be able to find an enjoyable experience. If you're just looking for a quick few hours of mindless killing, you'll probably want to look elsewhere. This game requires grinding and replaying levels to get further ahead, so it's up to the player more than anything else.
Moon Diver is up for download on PSN right now, and will be available on Xbox Live soon.
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