Watch your step, for you’ve just entered the Graveyard. Inside, we’ll be digging up games that have long been without a pulse. You’ll see both good and bad souls unearthed every month as we search through the more… forgotten…parts of history.
Koichi Yotsui has developed several Strider-likes over the years, with Cannon Dancer: Osman being the one that has gotten the most acclaim, but Moon Diver is the most recent one and an interesting mix of Strider with co-op play. It also did more in terms of core offense, with a blend of short-range attacks and long-range to mix it up. Surprisingly for an early ’10s digital release, it didn’t get a Steam release and was console-only on PS3 and the Xbox 360.
Moon Diver also differs from any prior Strider-like by including four different characters with different stats to consider when playing. You have power, HP and MP as your main guidelines — so those who want to bull rush through should go with a power-heavy build, while those wanting more long-range attacks will be better-served with an MP-heavy character. As a general rule, it’s never a bad idea to load up on HP when you can either and this is also a bit of a rogue-lite as well.
Each death allows for a restart, but you keep your ability to boost stats up after every run, ensuring that you have a better chance of success if there’s an area that keeps tripping you up. The core gameplay is similar to Strider with differences to it in the overall game feel. Strider and Cannon Dancer were each arcade-first romps with shorter stages while Moon Diver still has a Point A to B structure, but includes some areas where you have to take out waves of enemies in a basic platforming area. As is tradition for this kind of game, there’s maneuverability available, but not a ton.
You can still hang off of ledges and platforms, but with enemies flying all over the place, this becomes less useful than finding a good vantage point and running amok with long-range attacks as much as you can. Blending in short-range attacks is a must too in case you want to hold onto your MP for tougher areas later on. The ability to have a lot of agility is nice, but somewhat lost on the more enclosed areas. Moon Diver is more combat-centric than Strider, where platforming and skillful movement were paramount, and it’s taken to a different level here by adding offense to traversal.
The overall feel of the games is similar, but Moon Diver does go further in terms of allowing the player to do more damage in the air and to grounded enemies. The right trigger-based air dash attack is fantastic at enabling the player to not only fly around the stage faster if they don’t mind not being able to level up by beating as many enemies, but it’s great for closed-quarters areas where you’re surrounded and need to get a break from the swarm. Taking out a couple of foes with it before laying out more with a ranged attack is rewarding, as is just pouncing on folks from above with a dive attack.
The sheer versatility in the attacks makes the combat feel more fun than Strider, but the controls aren’t as fluid. The closed areas are where the cracks show in the overall game design because they feel like padding for the regular stage as a whole and easily eat up health. With this being a rogue-lite, death does mean you have to replay through the whole stage again and that gets old quick given how little stage variety there is. Most of the stages have an industrial look and it isn’t until the latter-half of the adventure where you start seeing much color variety.
Still, for a PS3/360 game, it does hold up nicely when it comes to its texture work — most of the time. There are still muddy textures in the foreground, but not many and the game still looks solid. Playing it on the Xbox One showed just how well it’s held up as there isn’t any slowdown and if I didn’t know it was from an earlier generation, nothing would give it away due to how smoothly it plays. It’s a shame there’s so little to work with when it comes to stages because a game this smooth with 4-play co-op does work nicely — it just gets old faster than it should due to padding and a lack of visual variety for both stages and enemies.
Moon Diver does hold up nicely thanks to its sound design, which stands out nicely. The soundtrack is far more rock-centric than any Strider game or Cannon Dancer and gets the blood pumping to start and keeps it going throughout. The sword-slicing effect is nice, but something you only notice during a single-player session as multi-player sessions will result in that effect being drowned out by everyone else’s slash and voice clip when it’s done.
Overall, Moon Diver succeeds far more than it falls short when it comes to offering up a multiplayer Strider-style experience. The usage of rogue-lite mechanics and several characters to use are nice, but don’t do a lot to enhance the experience. The character variety is largely small stat adjustments alongside a different color scheme, while the rogue-lite approach works best for multiplayer sessions and can make single-player a chore at times. It controls wonderfully, though, and has a lot more kinds of attacks available than any other Strider-like while keeping a rock-solid framerate no matter how much on-screen chaos there is. It’s playable on the PS3 and 360 natively and received an Xbox One/Series backwards compatible patch to be playable on modern hardware. Strangely, it never got a PC release, which feels like a missed opportunity.