Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is a fine example of retro done right

Some 35 years after the Mega Drive first launched, there’s no real shortage of action games inspired by the greats of the 16-bit era. Not that I’m complaining, of course – my Switch is crammed full of gems like Katana Zero, Huntdown, and Blazing Chrome that are still played regularly.

It’s always exciting to switch between something like Contra: Hard Corps on Switch Online’s Mega Drive service (an offer worth the price of a subscription alone) and a game like Blazing Chrome when you see how faithful the Brazilian developer JoyMasher is also his inspiration as they see all the areas where they have always pushed the action further.

There’s that same thrill when you play JoyMasher’s latest game, the delightfully titled Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider. The references are once again explicit, from the delightful absurdity of its name (inspired by Raizing’s Armed Police Batrider, which almost trumps it) to the action, which once again takes some strong cues from Contra. There’s more here though, with some inspired lifts from other games of the time.

Structurally, it’s Capcom’s Mega Man that provides the main inspiration, with a selection of levels available once you’ve gotten through the opener, and each guided by a unique boss. There’s also a healthy dose of strider in your cyborg ninja’s movement, with the same delicate sense of momentum made possible by a satisfying double-tap, and backed by a bouncing punch that ensures you’re always pushing forward. It feels fantastic, to be honest.

There’s a decent CRT filter, which is one of the better implementations and helps sell Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider’s immaculate atmosphere.

Much like Blazing Chrome, Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider excels in diversity. Each level has its own theme, yes, but each features set pieces that range from skybound platforms to speeder bike chases through urban freeways, and there’s something of vintage treasure in the way JoyMasher keeps adding new elements brings into play. It might only take a couple of hours to get through it all, but it’s a couple of hours of well-crafted delights, and execution across the board is exemplary. This is a 16-bit action, and it’s a 16-bit action that executes correctly.

The scoring system is rudimentary, but it’s still enough to encourage some replays after the first playthrough.

There are some touches that add a bit of depth; You have two slots that can be filled with perks and boosts that you find on the field, while there are specials tied to an SP meter that add another wrinkle to the fight. However, there are other aspects that remind you of how brutal the 16-bit era could be; Like Blazing Chrome before it, this is a challenging game with a few difficulty spikes that are a bit too peaky for my liking (and maybe that has something to do with wall jumping, which I found as fiddly as Super Metroid’s own sticky example, although I’m not admit that this is a mistake that could well be due to my own lack of skill).

It’s these blunter edges in an otherwise expertly viewed package that keeps Vengeful Guardian Moonrider from reaching the same heights of a modern classic as Katana Zero, but as a facsimile of classics after JoyMasher’s latest, it’s more than effective. This is a gorgeous, spirited affair, and a welcome reminder of just how entertaining the hard-edged action of the 16-bit era can be. Vengeful Guardian Moonrider is a fine example of retro done right

Fry Electronics Team

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