Retro platformers aren’t hard to come by. I count myself among the group of video game players who welcome the efforts of small development teams that play to our nostalgia for an era where playing video games meant tuning in to Channel 3. Some are brilliant, some are too rough to be enjoyable, but most land somewhere in the middle. Vengeful Guardians: Moonrider won’t go down in history as one of those greats that embraces the past and modernizes the action, but I’d put it closer to the fantastic side of the scale, even if it’s not all . Way.
In Vengeful Guardians: Moonrider, you are the titular Moonrider. You break out of your container and destroy the guards in a violent showdown that must have made you thankful your parents weren’t watching you play it on its genesis in 1992. The story is sparse but enjoyable. For most of the experience, I wondered if I was the bad guy and enjoyed Moonrider’s soliloquy about how unrestricted power isn’t someone’s best fit, no matter how noble their intentions. I also appreciated the little bits of personality that were put into each boss before starting the fight.
However, the story is secondary to the staging and sword action. Moonrider moves well, bouncing off walls like Samus Aran, and running to leap over great chasms. It’s great to move around, but there appear to be some annoying drawbacks where you can’t see your next platform due to camera limitations. Zooming out would have made it feel a lot more like a modern game, but I don’t know if it was worth the Genesis-era accuracy to be annoyed at times.
Along with the jumping and sword action that accounts for most of the game, there are a few motorcycle levels. These levels walk a rough line of looking like they could exist on a 16-bit console, but I’m almost certain they couldn’t. More importantly, though, I enjoyed them just as much as standard platforming.
Difficulty is often a shortcoming for comparable games, with the emphasis on fun at times being the challenge. Thankfully, Vengeance Guardians: Moonrider finds a fine balance. Levels are difficult but achievable for a reasonable amount of lives and checkpoints, and bosses have patterns that can be tracked and exploited, but probably not on your first try.
Taking inspiration from Mega Man, the other six can be progressed in any order after you beat the first level, and defeating its boss rewards you with a new weapon. The mechanic is a familiar one but it works, and it’s exciting to try out your new tornado weapon, or my favorite, a portal-ejecting tentacle. Hidden upgrades, such as the ability to double jump or become stronger the more enemies you defeat, can also be found throughout each level and can be optionally equipped. I enjoyed these as rewards for discovering the main path, but some are definitely more useful than others. I two quickly found that I was never unrestricted.
Vengeful Guardian: One of the best things Moonrider has going for it is its length. It only takes a few hours to make your way to the last level and defeat the final boss. As such, it knows exactly what it is: a brief but pleasantly nostalgic experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome. By the time you start to feel like you’ve completed a full retro meal, the credits are just around the corner and I appreciate it for that. The thrill of Moonrider probably won’t stick with you, but I have no regrets about playing this short, familiar, and satisfying experience.