Reverence for Castlevania

Momodora04

HIGH The boss battle against Pardoner Fennel.

LOW A particularly dark level making instant-death spikes tough to see.

WTF Money being called “munny.”


 

I’d never heard of Momodora until this year, but it doesn’t surprise me that Reverie Under the Moonlight is the fourth entry in this series. While there’s a valid argument to be made that Reverie doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself in a crowded genre – the indie market doesn’t know what to do with all these Metroidvanias – it has an elegance and confidence that I wouldn’t expect from a first-timer. Reverie is the work of someone who’s been here before and fine-tuned their craft.

This is most evident in the art direction, which refuses to be held back by tech. Momodora has some of the most stunning 16-bit work I’ve seen in ages, thanks to both a vivid color palette and impressively fluid animation. Characters’ clothing billows as they move about. Environmental objects that could have been inanimate buck and sway. A garden level is full of dangling potted plants that swing back and forth, and in an infernal region called the “Cinder Chambers,” smoke pours in through the seams. In such an exploration-centric game, it makes a difference that every new area is so visually exciting.

Beyond its appearance, Reverie is a perfectly solid 2D action-adventure taking more than a few cues from Castlevania. The game’s middle portion has players tracking down four mystical doodads which, by my observation, can be collected in any order. I’ve always appreciated a free-flowing nature in this genre, and there are about a hundred forks in the road in Reverie. Any time I found one segment just a bit too intimidating, there was always the option to try another route and come back later.

I do take a couple of issues with the combat which is inexplicably, but delightfully, performed by swinging a giant maple leaf.

The protagonist’s move set consists entirely of a single three-hit combo, and although it’s perfectly functional, it’s slightly disappointing that the combat doesn’t evolve in any significant way due to a lack of new attacks or weapons. The heroine also has a bow, but since there’s no cost to using it, I found it a bit too easy to cheese any enemies that kept their distance.

Understandably, then, Reverie‘s highlights are its smallest, most melee-centric bosses. Since there’s no way to block attacks, the game’s full-on duels are all about footwork. They remind me of the NPC battles in Bloodborne in that they’re sweaty-palmed affairs that look like dance routines, with no “trick” other than intimately learning enemy moves and applying that knowledge on the fly to stay alive and deal damage whenever possible. In beating these bosses, there’s a sense that I’m not just memorizing simple patterns, but actually mastering something. It’s rewarding.

The world design is vintage Metroidvania in the way it branches and doubles back over itself, but the player’s means of uncovering new areas is a bit routine. It’s mostly just a matter of matching keys to locked doors, and the handful of movement-based abilities are standard affair – there’s an extended jump, a Morph Ball-like power used to squeeze into smaller spaces, and… that’s about it. As polished as Reverie it, it offers very few mechanical surprises.

The story is also disappointingly simple. It pulls from Dark Souls in that very little is told to the player outright, and I was excited to engage in optional conversations with NPCs in order to piece together what I took to be a sprawling puzzle of a plot. Disappointingly, the hidden ‘true ending’ (which I unlocked without even trying) essentially just confirms what I already knew — an evil sorceress is threatening the land, and that a woman clad in white wants to stop her. Reverie either fails to live up to its aura of mystery or lacks the obsessive fanbase required to unearth something more intriguing here. (Kudos, however, for a female-dominated cast.)

Despite all of this, the Castlevania series is something of a comfort food for me, and any game that can properly emulate what it does gets my recommendation. Predictable as it may be, Reverie is the tight, efficient, and beautiful work from someone who knows the subgenre well. I may even go check out the other three now. Rating: 7.5 out of 10


 

Disclosures: This game is developed by Bombservice and published by AGM PLAYISM. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately six hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes. 

Parents: As of press time, this game has not been rated by the ESRB. It contains mild fantasy violence and nothing more. This game is fine for any age.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Sound does not play a vital role in the game in any way.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Mike Suskie

Mike Suskie

Mike's first exposure to video games was when his parents bought him a Game Boy and a copy of Kirby's Dream Land. Completing it gave him the boost of confidence that launched a lifelong enthusiasm for the medium. Later in his life, he went back and discovered that Kirby's Dream Land is actually a laughably easy game that can be finished in about 20 minutes, but no matter.

He was born and raised in Amish country and has yet to escape, despite a brief stint in Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University. He took a one-credit course there called "Career Opportunities for English Majors," which painted a bleak picture for prospective writers. Mike remains steadfast in his ongoing role as a video game critic, however, and has recently written for GamesRadar. Most of his work can be found on HonestGamers, where he has contributed over 200 reviews to date.

When not playing games or writing about them, Mike is a rabid indie music fan and ardent concertgoer. He doesn't read as much as he probably should, but his current favorite author is Alastair Reynolds.
Mike Suskie

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