Retro platformers are not hard to come by. I count myself among the group of video game players who welcome efforts from small development teams that play to our nostalgia for an era where playing video games meant tuning to channel 3. Some are fantastic, some are too hard to be enjoyable, but most land somewhere in the middle. Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider won’t go down in history as one of the greats that both embraces the past and modernizes the action, but I would place it closer to the fantastic side of the scale, even if it doesn’t quite make it all the way.
In Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider, you are the titular Moonrider. You break out of your container and destroy the guards in a violent display that would have made you grateful your parents weren’t watching had you been playing it on your 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 soliloquies about how unrestricted power isn’t appropriate for anyone, no matter how noble their intentions. I also appreciated the little bits of personality injected into every boss before beginning the fight.
The story is secondary, however, to the platforming and sword action. Moonrider moves well, bounces off walls like Samus Aran, and sprints to leap over large chasms. He feels great to move, but some annoying shortcomings appear where you can’t see your next platform due to the camera limitations. To zoom out would make it feel too much like a modern game, but I don’t know if it was worth the Genesis-era accuracy to be occasionally annoyed.
Along with the jumping and sword action, which accounts for most of the game, there are a handful of motorcycle levels. These levels toe a difficult line of looking like they could have existed on a 16-bit console, but I am almost certain they couldn’t. More importantly, however, I enjoyed them as much as the standard platforming.
Difficulty is often a shortcoming for comparable games, with many emphasizing challenge over fun. Thankfully, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider finds a good balance. Levels are hard, but achievable thanks to reasonable lives and checkpoints, and bosses have patterns that can be tracked and exploited, but probably not on your first attempt.
Taking inspiration from Mega Man, after clearing the first level, the other six can be pursued in any order, 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 tentacle that ejects from a portal. Hidden upgrades, like a double jump or the ability to become stronger the more enemies you defeat, can also be found in every level and can optionally be equipped. I enjoyed these as rewards for exploring off the main path, but some are undeniably more useful than others. I found two early on that I never unequipped.
One of the best things going for Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is its length. Making your way to the last level and defeating the final boss only takes a few hours. In this way, it knows exactly what it is: a brief but enjoyable nostalgic experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome. By the time you start feeling like you’ve completed a full retro meal, credits are right around the corner and I appreciate it for that. Moonrider’s adventure likely won’t linger with you, but I don’t regret playing the short, familiar, and satisfying experience.