Moon Diver Review

By Jeffrey Matulef - Posted Apr 14, 2011

A four player co-op hack-and-slash, Moon Diver boasts frantic action and unique co-op twists. Sadly, a series of baffling design choices make it impenetrable to both solo and multiple players. Moon Diver is simply a mess that's unlikely to please all but the most devoted fans of the genre.

The Pros
  • Co-operative spell system
  • Reviving allies
  • Fast, chaotic action
The Cons
  • Unfairly balanced, particularly in single player
  • Co-op is hard to keep track of
  • Frequent, unskippable cutscenes
  • Acquiring spells is a hassle in multiplayer

Moon Diver Review: 

It's a four player co-op revolution happening and everyone's here. Link started doing it before it was cool with Four Swords in 2002. Mario followed suit later with New Super Mario Bros Wii in 2009. Even Solid Snake decided to get in on this four player fad in last year's Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Now, Strider creator Koichi Yotsui, has brought us a spiritual successor to his 1989 hit with Moon Diver which, you guessed it, has four player co-op. Unfortunately, it also has a fundamental misunderstanding about what makes co-op appealing and winds up a jumbled mess unlikely to appeal to solo or social gamers alike.

Moon Diver

I Need a Little Help From my Friends

When going it alone, Moon Diver appears to be a fun, if shallow side scrolling hack-and-slash. Jumping, double jumping, and dashing through hordes of enemies has a chaotic oldschool charm about it, partially due to its colorful aesthetic. The story doesn't make a lick of sense, but slicing through a line of twenty enemy drones is one of life's simple pleasures.

This won't last long, however, as a few levels later the difficulty ramps up significantly and playing co-op becomes a necessity, even on easy mode. In co-op players can revive each other as well as cast multiplayer specific "MoonSault Combinations" (MC) i.e. spells. These range from freezing enemies, to healing allies, to shooting projectiles. Cleverly, the more powerful MCs take on extra attributes if another player joins in on their casting. For example, a player can cast a healing spell alone by tapping the circle button, but if they hold it a prompt will appear above their ally's heads to cast with them. Doing so makes the spell apply to both players, yet it only costs magic points to its original caster. This encourages strategy and cooperation among teammates.

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Bad Moon Rising

It's a neat mechanic, but co-op comes with its own set of problems. The camera is zoomed in too much and players must all stay on the same screen, even when played online. If played with more than one other person you'd better get used to constantly respawning in the middle of the screen if other players push on without you. Or perhaps you'll be held back if they wish to take their time exploring. Furthermore, there's no option to change a character's color, so it's likely a doppleganger will enter the mix and make it near impossible to keep track of the action.

Equally misguided is that casting each MC results in an unskippable cutscene. They're only a few seconds long, but with four players enclosed in a laser filled hallway, the game is constantly interrupted by someone casting a freeze or heal spell.

Moon Diver

Acquiring MCs is another tricky matter as they're gained by being found. This isn't a problem in single player as you're granted to the luxury to explore; but in multiplayer, you have to stay with the group and a MC can only be grabbed by one player. This leads to frustration when you've played the same level for the umpteenth time, but someone always snatches the spell you wanted before you could get to it.

Elsewhere, the difficulty's all out of whack, refusing to scale based on the number of players or their level. With single player insurmountable and four player too incomprehensible, I eventually discovered a "sweet spot" playing two player co-op on easy mode. With fewer spells cast and less on-screen action to keep track of, I finally got a glimpse as what Moon Diver could have been. This didn't last, as later levels spammed lasers and endless swarms of enemies, so a third player had to be added which led to more confusion.

Moon Diver

Sunken Treasure

Under the right conditions Moon Diver can be a riot, but it takes a lot of experimentation to discover how. Do you play on easy or normal? Do you go it alone or take a friend with you? Should you use a third player or will that make it too muddled? Uh oh, there are three people playing as Hitori...

Moon Diver
is an uneasy marriage of single player and co-op design. Going solo makes it easier to explore and collect spells, but is unfairly difficult. Co-op grants new abilities, but it's mired in unskippable cutscenes and comprehending its cacophony of cartoon mayhem is futile. There are good ideas here, but they're buried under heaps of clutter.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?