Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight is so good that I spent a huge chunk of my time with the game wondering why there aren’t more clean, simple action platformer games released. Everyone and their cousin is making the newest, most clever crafting game with roguelike elements piled under four hundred metric feet of lore, and here’s Reverie, a game about a young priestess who goes to the city of Karth to rid her world of the great evil that’s emanating from it. She attacks people with a leaf. She shoots a bow. She jumps and ducks. It’s simple, and it’s a breath of fresh air.
Momodora hasn’t ever been on my radar, and that’s apparently all my fault. These games have been coming out fairly regularly since 2010, with Reverie Under the Moonlight being the fourth in the series. As best I can tell, they’re all action platformers that have you running about a world finding pickups, defeating bosses, and doing the kinds of things that will throw you back to console games of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
I spend a lot of time worrying about the effect of nostalgia on games. I think there’s very little scarier to me than hearing a game developer or a reviewer talk about how a game is designed around or gives off the feeling of a game from that developer or reviewer’s childhood. Games designed around nostalgia create hyper-excited in-groups and very confused out-groups, and watching the former become disappointed or policing the latter is one of the worst things that can happen in any kind of media culture.
Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight does it. I have nearly zero love for games like Super Metroid or Castlevania or Shinobi. They were games that I played when I had the chance, but none of them made the kind of deep-seated marks that I could never get away from. I haven’t spent the rest of my life chasing the feeling of completing, or even playing, them for the first time. Reverie pulls enough from those games for me to recognize the reference while enjoying it for what it is rather than enjoying it for what it references. This is the highest praise I can give a game of this kind doing the stuff that this game does.
What is that, exactly? You traverse a wide map, from outlying forest to interior castle, to defeat a queen who has poisoned the world. You interact with this beautiful pixel world via a three-hit combo and a bow, the former for close combat and the latter for hitting the dangerous enemies that you want to keep at a distance. Sometimes you talk to NPCs who, in the Dark Souls style, cryptically tell you about what they are going to do with their lives. Some you see again; some I left in a dungeon, withering and alone. There are collectable Ivory Bugs to pick up. There are usable items, and there are items that give you a passive benefit. Each of these changes the game in a slight way, but none of it feels too under- or overpowered.
The real glory in Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight is the boss fights. There’s nothing too complex about them. They all take place on one screen, have identifiable patterns, and feel very fair. Pardoner Fennel, a boss encountered in the middle of the game, might be one of my favorite boss fights ever. A sword-wielding priestess, she performs beautiful combos as the player flails around trying not to die. It’s amazing to watch, let alone play, and I would say that this game is worth purchasing for that encounter alone. It’s that good.
I also don’t think I can make it through this review without saying that there are two separate encounters with a boss named Lubella, Witch of Decay. She’s a giant enemy, and the boss fight proceeds this way: she disappears, creates a lot of damaging objects that you have to dodge, and then returns. When she is on-screen, you have to attack her giant breasts. That’s where the hitbox is. The hitbox is the giant breasts. Maybe this kind of thing comes with the genre? I don’t know. It was not my favorite thing, and the cheesecake quality wasn’t aimed at me. I hope it’s clear that I think this game is amazing, but the heaving breast boss fights really cuts down on my desire to recommend this to my not-super-gamer friends and family who might enjoy it otherwise.
I’m already excited about the next Momodora game. I’m going to play all of the previous games, and then I’m going to anticipate and wait for the next one.
Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight was developed by Bombservice and published by Playism. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It is also available for Xbox One and PC.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.