Both Spelunky and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening have taught us not to mess with the shopkeeper.
In both cases, a spot of casual pilfering on the player's part is sufficient to turn these benign figures into shotgun/lightning-toting bad-asses.
Moonlighter is the game that puts you in the shoes of one of these Jekyll and Hyde retailers. Finally.
SpelunkdaInterestingly enough, Moonlighter could be described (a little clumsily, admittedly) as a mash-up of those two aforementioned games.
Its fantasy universe, top-down perspective, and movement mechanics call to mind Link's best 2D adventures. But the ruthless, randomised rogue-lite structure of the game anchors it in the post-Spelunky world.
Young merchant Will is a humble shopkeep by day, flogging a range of goods pilfered from the mysterious local dungeons to the citizens of Rynoka.
At night, however, Will picks up his sword (or spear, or spiked gloves) and heads into those dungeons to gather loot for the following day's business.
Where there’s a WillThe bulk of Moonlighter's running time takes place in this murkier, more dangerous part of Will’s life. Within the shifting walls of the dungeons Will proves to be a capable fellow, with a nimble dodge-roll and a handy way with multiple weapon types.
Combat is largely melee-based, with the kind of weighty feel that initially sits at odds with the game's light fantasy style. Once you click with it, though, it feels great.
Attacking in brief flurries before rolling away is generally the best way to approach fights with a varied assortment of clanking 'golem' guardians and icky monsters. It's also possible to switch to a back-up weapon on the fly, so crafting yourself a handy bow is recommended for some easy ranged damage.
Ah yes, the crafting. Besides selling the gear you find in the dungeons (which we'll get onto), you'll use some of it to forge and upgrade your weapons and armour, as well as formulating potions and enchanting your equipment. A handy shopping list function stars any useful items you might find.
Money you earn can be pumped into funding various specialist shops that can carry out this improvement work for you.
Shop til you dropThe main shop you’ll be focusing on back in Rynoka will be your own. Like the combat, Moonlighter’s shop management system initially underwhelms - you heave your gear onto the display table, take a stab at setting a price, and either curse yourself for falling short of the true valuation or annoy your customers by price gouging.
But then you start to fall into the retail game’s rhythm. Every item you sell, every emote response from your customers, contributes to your body of knowledge. Slowly you start to tweak and refine your prices using your deceptively powerful log book.
Soon you’ll be raking serious amounts of money in, and your list of issues will shift accordingly. You’re no longer struggling to eke out an existence, but puzzling over where to spend your money.
Do you upgrade your shop or invest in the town? Which subset of weapon do you invest in, the super-powerful one or the one that adds a status effect? Do you spend money on a warp gate so that you can flog the brilliant gear you just assembled, or do you press on and hope that you can nail the boss, knowing that death means losing your haul?
Rogue elementIt’s this added batch of decisions and tactical considerations that justify the presence of Moonlighter’s quirky retail element. And this is from someone who doesn’t typically enjoy dedicated casual management games.
There’s little to knock the game for, but it’s not perfect. It can try your patience early on, before its systems click, and also deep into the game as grind and repetition kicks in. Sometimes the busywork of inventory management wears rather thin, too - especially when cursed items enter the equation.
Ultimately, though, Moonlighter is another brilliant indie game on Switch. It sits just shy of Dead Cells, Enter the Gungeon and Binding of Isaac as a top drawer action-RPG rogue-lite. We’d recommend approaching your friendly shopkeep for a copy post-haste. And don’t annoy them, whatever you do.
Want more? Check out our growing collection of Moonlighter articles!