Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider

Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider Review – What am I Fighting For

What do you get when you take elements from classic 2D platformers such as Ninja Gaiden (NES version), Mega Man, and several others? You get Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider, an action platform that’s also a speedrunning game; that’s what you get. JoyMasher‘s and The Arcade Crew‘s previous retro arcade game, Blazing Chrome, kept me entertained for hours. Can this game do the same?

Game Name: Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider
Platform(s): PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Switch
Publisher(s): The Arcade Crew
Developer(s): Joymasher
Release Date: January 12, 2023
Price: $16.99

Those crafty folks over at JoyMasher have done it again. They’ve crafted yet another retro action platformer that pays homage to the games from the Nintendo Entertainment System era, such as Ninja Gaiden, Shadow of the Ninja, and Mega Man. I’m also pretty sure they snuck in Metroid’s Motherbrain as a boss.

Known for their previous title, Blazing Chrome, they’re back with Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider. Instead of shooting guns, you’re taking the role of a cybernetic Samurai whose honor code runs deep. Initially created to serve a higher power and oppose those who don’t fall in, something randomly makes you change your mind, and now you’re on a mission to wipe out your cybernetic family. Something about being the lesser of two evils: yeah, you don’t come for the story, but you’ll love the gameplay.

Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider - Is that... Motherbrain?
Is that… Mother Brain?

This all seems familiar

As mentioned, the game is influenced by games of old, and it wears that on its sleeve like a champ. In Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider, the gameplay is straightforward – kill all the bad guys, make it through the level, and defeat the boss. You can’t get any more straightforward than that. After you make it out of the first level, you’re free to tackle the other stages as you wish, so it’s non-linear. Once that’s done, it’s on to the game’s final leg. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

As for getting through those levels, you have access to a very sharp (but short) blade that puts a hurting on enemies, and a dive kick that is way too overpowered, but I’m not complaining.  Along the way, you’ll find modules known as chips that will provide different abilities, such as HP and MP recovery, extended attack range, and more. Or for the hardcore folks, and I know you’re out there, there’s a chip that turns the game into a hardcore mode; one death, and it’s game over. The downside is that those chips are scattered everywhere, so you’ll have to hunt them down.

Vengeful Guardian Moonrider - Theres even a SNES Mode 7 segment

Once you’ve taken down a boss, you’ll take possession of their power, in a Mega Man-ish fashion, and can call upon those at any time. As long as you have enough MP, you can unleash those powers. That said, some weapons are better than others, especially for boss fights. Paying no attention to the recommended order, I fumbled my way through the game, and learned that the hard way – don’t be like me. I’ve found that completing levels to earn those special weapons works in order, as certain weapons do better on certain bosses. Or you can just use your skills to power your way through the game.

That old-school look and feel

I’m conflicted about the looks, despite this being a 16-bit game, at times, it felt more like 8-bit, and others screamed 16-bit. This was apparently during the 2D segments, and it wasn’t as refined as Blazing Chrome or other 16-bit games I’ve played din the past. However, when the game swaps out to the few 3D segments where you’re driving a bit, it’s reminiscent of the SNES’s Mode 7 mode.  I wish there were more of those 3D segments in the game. Visually, it’s a mixed bag, but it still looks good. It’s one of those games that you need to see in action to form your own opinion.

The music and the sound effects, on the other hand, are great stuff. Each stage has its own unique track, and it’s some good stuff. I really hope a soundtrack for the game gets released, as I found my self just sitting in place, jamming away instead of slicing and dice my enemies.

Vengeful Guardian Moonrider - Strider, is that you?
Strider, is that you?

It’s a speedrunner too?

As I said initially, this game is more than just your average hack and slack platformer. Unlike some of my favorite classic games of all time, it’s also a speed runner, which adds a twist to the tried and true formula. A great example of this is when you first take on a level, and perhaps you end up limping your way through it, barely making your way to the boss. Maybe you died a few times along the way, or perhaps it took you longer than you wanted it to. That’s fine, as you can repeat any level as many times as you want. You can take on those bosses, learn their patterns, and eventually take them down faster with every learning experience.

Vengeful Guardian Moonrider - Get a better ranking

As you do this, your ranking for each stage will improve, and hopefully, this will put a smile on your face. As for how the rankings work, I still haven’t figured that out completed. It’s about speed, so the faster you go, the better. Though as much as I got hammered trying to progress through the levels, I managed to score several “S” ranks, so it’s not about how much damage you take. According to JoyMasher, it is indeed based on speed, and the number of enemies you kill. Damage doesn’t factor in at all.

Tossing in the ability to speedrun the game extends the game’s replayability, as the game is short. I was able to finish it on my second try in under an hour, and some change. After completing the game, I returned a few times to get a better ranking, but that didn’t take me very long.

My honest thoughts

I enjoy playing games that emulate those classic games I grew up playing, and while I thought I’d be tired of them, I’m not yet. However, with Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider, despite having the ability to replay the levels to beat my previous times, and collect the chips I missed, that only held my attention for so long. I thoroughly enjoyed the game, but after about 10 hours, I was done with it.  Again, there’s no disrespect to Joy Smasher, but I’m not a speedrunner type of person. If I manage to get a decent level in a game, I’m happy with that. Unless there was some reason to get a decent time, like being able to show off on a leaderboard, rankings seem meaningless.

I came for the action platforming and stayed for the music and gameplay, but the speedrunning didn’t hold my attention.

Review Disclosure Statement: Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider was provided to us by Arcadecrew for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.

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Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is yet another fantastic retro gaming experience from Joymasher, and it shows that the developer has really found its niche. However, with the game being way too short for it’s own good, and speedrun games aren’t for everyone, Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is in an awkward position. Great gameplay, great music, it’s just too damned short.