Review

Moon Diver Review (Xbox360)

Despite its curious name, Moon Diver is not an outer-space snorkelling sim, nor is it a game where you are forced to explore the intricacies of someone's anus. Instead, it's a homage to late '80s hack and slasher Strider, straight from the mind of creator Koichi Yotsui himself. Back in the day, being punished by a brutal 2D side-scroller was standard affair, but in 2011, gaming has moved on. This is expertly reinforced by Moon Diver, whose adequate combat and awful presentation fail to make a lasting impression.
 

When playing with friends, you can combine your MoonSault moves together
While the premise of running from one side of the screen, slaughtering everything in your path is simple, this title throws up its fair share of frustration. There's four characters to choose from, all of which have their own advantages; levelling up health, magic and power at different speeds. Typically, there's a character for each preference. One favours brute force, another wields spells with greater power, and a third just loves living. If none of these take your fancy, you can choose the character who levels up all attributes evenly.

Once entering the game, you'll immediately start to realise how outdated the whole thing is. Cut-scenes are bizarre, as the same still images appear, with some oddly translated subtitle to back it up. While there is a story, everything seems to be lost in translation, as the subtitles and stage names don't quite come together to form anything worthwhile. In fact, the narrative provided more laughs than anything else; not what you want from a game that has you fighting off an intergalactic Armageddon.

Proceedings fail to improve when you actually whip out your weapon and embark on some cold-blooded killing too. You'll quickly be taught that, other than the one button attack, you have four special moves to utilise. These are known as MoonSault powers, but as with the rest of the game, fall short of impressing. By switching which special move you'd like to use on the d-pad, it won't be long before you're attacking all enemies simultaneously with Falk's Joy, freezing foes with Niltor's Song, or deafening any YouTube using stragglers with Black's Friday. While these moves are a godsend when things get hectic, they underline the laziness of the title. Anything after level four will see you engulfed in dozens of identical baddies, all of whom follow the same animation patterns, and all fall to their death in the same way when you unleash a strong attack. If you hadn't noticed how there's a handful of different enemy types before doing this, you sure will when they hit the floor like a finely choreographed octuplet circus.
 
Lasers are the toughest enemy in the game, cutting off entire chunks from the level in a few seconds
Other than hammering the same two buttons through each of the game's seemingly endless levels, you'll also have to navigate your character across a destroyed planet. The double jump has never been so useful, as you're forced to grab onto ceilings, run up walls and hop from one ledge to another at speed. There's a fair bit of leeway here, as even if you miss the platform first time, another quick bash of the jump button will propel your momentum skywards. It seems if you're going to die, the developers want it to be from their sloppily-created invaders, and not from the pink smoke that underlines each level. Most enemies will leave little trace once they've been beaten, but those wearing yellow armour will explode when they're defeated, firing out a multi-directional blast that covers every 90 degree angle. With a little bit of brain work, it doesn't take long to realise that these can be used to your advantage. Hordes of enemies can be destroyed instantly if you get it right, and chain reactions can take place if you get it spot on. Kill one yellow guy and get him to blow up the next, and you'll be working your way through the stage without laying a finger on the majority of cretins that stand in your way.

There's little doubt that Moon Diver has been designed with multiplayer in mind. You can hop into the online battlefield with three other players, a premise that serves up its own kind of annoyances. All players can use the same character, meaning the hardest part of the game comes from trying to decipher which one you're controlling. Players of all levels can join together, which isn't always a good thing when a beginner launches themselves into a game with those who have levelled up considerably. The worst aspect of the multiplayer is the revive system. When someone loses all of their health, the remaining players have a few seconds to break the chains that constrict them, allowing them to fight on. When you reach the latter levels, the insane amount of laser beams, identical enemies and bosses that appear will inevitably take their toll on someone. Then another. And another. A mistake from one person puts the rest of the team in danger- somewhat annoying if an aforementioned level 1 is the culprit.
 
Bosses are big, but won't pose too much trouble for players who can work out a pattern

Moon Diver tries its hardest to be exciting, and at times, its entertaining. If you're going to play by yourself, be prepared to grind your way through, attempting each level a number of times to improve your character's stats. The only way to experience the whole game with relative ease is by dipping your toes in the online pool. Unfortunately, most of the title is plagued by repetition, lifeless design, and enough Japanese obscurity to deter most enthusiasts, meaning Moon Diver's appeal is broken quicker than Ryan Giggs' super injunction.

Most Memorable Moment: The bosses provide the biggest source of excitement by far.

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