Way back in 1989, Capcom released a little arcade game called Strider. Created by Koichi Yotsui, Strider would go on to become a true classic of its generation both in the arcades and on the home consoles. Revered for its fast paced action and insane acrobatics, the title set a standard that few other games within the genre have ever managed to meet, let alone exceed. Surprisingly, for a game as revered and successful as the original, sequels to Strider have been surrounded by controversy as numerous titles and spinoffs have arisen from various developers, all claiming to continue the Strider legacy. The only “official” sequel that is acknowledged by Capcom is 1999’s Strider 2 for the original PlayStation (and an arcade port) though other titles have been released referencing and “honoring” the Strider-name including Strider for the NES, Strider II from US Gold, and Osman from the Mitchell Corporation. Diehard fans of the series and its main character have been craving a new chapter of the series for years; unfortunately, thanks to licensing issues / disputes, that sequel is likely never coming. Perhaps the best alternative that we are going to get is Square Enix’s Moon Diver.
Gamers can pretty much think of Moon Diver as the spiritual successor to the Strider franchise. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the original game will immediately notice its influence upon seeing this game in action. Moon Diver is the brainchild of Koichi Yotsui, the creator of the original arcade classic. The new game paints a bleak image of the future. Set in the 22nd century, on the third planet from the sun, mankind stands on the edge of extinction. A young boy by the name of Faust is “blessed” with the power to breathe life into inanimate objects, including machines. Using his unique power, Faust creates a deadly army of machines and sets out a quest to completely destroy mankind and claim the world as his own. After centuries of war and devastation, Faust’s mission is quickly approaching completion. In a last ditch effort to save humanity from being completely wiped out, a group of specially trained ninjas emerged with instructions to launch an attack against Faust and save humanity. These ninjas, known as Moon Divers, are both the last and best chance for mankind to overcome the oppressive machine force that had nearly destroyed them.
There are four Moon Divers for players to choose from: Seyfert, Hitori, Tolby, and Ourion. Each player has access to the same moves and abilities but may differ slightly in the distribution of their skill points. There are three categories for skills amongst the playable characters, those being HP (health), MP (magic), and POW (strength). As you progress through the game and defeat enemies, your character(s) will earn experience points which will build your chosen ninja up over time. In addition to the natural progression of stats given as you gain each level, players are also awarded creation points which can be distributed as they see fit to further strengthen your character. The natural leveling of the character abilities differs for each one. Tolby for example is nearly perfect well rounded and will gain stats evenly while Hitori’s progression will focus more on strengthening his magical abilities. This gives players a slightly altered experience when playing as each one and the ability to mold a character to their personal liking.The only other real “element” to Moon Diver’s gameplay is the collection and utilization of special moves known as Moonsault Combinations (MC). Players can collect and unlock roughly 60 different MC’s throughout the game which are triggered by pressing the circle button. The effects had by these moves vary and include the ability to launch various projectiles, restore health, and even cause temporary impairment of your enemies. Up to 4 MC’s can be assigned to a character at a given time, each of which is mapped to a different direction on the d-pad. Sometimes, these moves can mean the difference between life and death when you are facing an onslaught of mechanized enemies but players must be wary of their MP gauge as it is drained with each MC use.
As “next gen” as the game looks on its surface, the gameplay is as old school as it comes. Moon Diver plays and feels just like a classic arcade / action game. Aside from the MC’s players will be relying solely on their ability to run, jump, and slash away at their enemies. There aren’t any fancy gameplay elements tied in to complicate things aside from the ability to hang from the walls and ceilings; you simply wreak havoc on as many enemies you can at any given time. As simple as it is it is also incredibly fun. The action spans across 12 different stages, each with their own branching paths which offers variation for subsequent plays. Unfortunately, all of the stages look and feel somewhat similar. The same familiarity that is evident in the stages is also felt in the enemy variety, or lack thereof, featured in the game. While you do run across quite a few large and nasty bosses, most of the regular enemies that you will be facing during the course of your gameplay will be the same from start to finish.
This is really unfortunate given the polish and intricate character design featured in Moon Diver. I absolutely love the visual presentation of the 3D models on the 2D plane, and do not understand how the development team came to the decision to limit the variety of the fantastic art presentation throughout the game. There is a nice variety present in the various animated cut scenes and menus, but it just isn’t found throughout the whole experience. Fortunately, most players will be tearing through the endless waves of enemies at such a rapid pace that they will hopefully not be distracted by the repetitive nature of both the enemies and the environments. The true focus of the game is its action and in that area it more than succeeds.
Although the game will become visually repetitive over time, thankfully the gameplay will not as a result of the great cooperative modes offered. Moon Diver supports up to 4 player cooperative gameplay both online and off. The transition between the two is practically seamless as you can be joined by both friends nearby and random online players at any given time, assuming you launch the game with that option activated. The online play is as smooth as it is fast paced and really performs well. When playing with more than one player, you can use special, enhanced MC’s in order to make your team effort all that more effective. Players can also interact with one another through online leaderboards which track player performance(s) on each stage.
Despite its flashy visual presentation, Moon Diver is a throwback to the simpler action games of the past. This is something I would have expected to find in the arcades back in the early to mid-90’s. While I personally enjoy the game, I can see it having difficulty becoming popular considering the current trends in gaming. The game is honestly as simple as it gets; you run, jump, hack, and slash… and maybe utilize the occasional special ability, but that is it. You are either going to love this game or hate it; I seriously doubt that there will be a middle ground. As for me, I loved it and keep going back for more.