I’ll Review Anything: Moon Chronicles (Nintendo 3DS)

Renegade Kid was a company who made a name for themselves by developing the relatively well-known first person shooters Dementium: The Ward and Moon for the Nintendo DS. These games, along with Nintendo’s own Metroid Prime Hunters, showed that an underpowered handheld can have an FPS that plays really well. I used past tense because Renegade Kid announced that they’ll be closing up shop just last month, which is a shame because they’ve come up with other stand out titles like Mutant Mudds for the Nintendo 3DS in recent years. Prior to their unfortunate end, Renegade Kid released remastered editions of their two FPS titles for the Nintendo 3DS. I’ve already reviewed Dementium Remastered here so let me take a look at their enhanced version of Moon: Moon Chronicles.

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Moon Chronicles is a first person shooter set in a future timeline where technology has evolved to allow humans to set up stations on the Moon for research purposes. Those on the moon discovered a hatch and suspect that it connects to a much larger structure beneath the Moon’s surface, so they sent Major Kane and the rest of his ETEO (Extra Terrestrial Encounter Organization) unit to investigate. And of course, things didn’t go as planned – and now we have our FPS adventure.

Both Moon Chronicles and Dementium Remastered use the same engine so the two games look very similar to each other, which is me saying that Moon Chronicles has decent graphics, but far from the best that I’ve seen on the Nintendo 3DS. However, the graphics engine fits the futuristic setting of Moon Chronicles better, with stages set in high tech space structures and on the Moon’s surface. This also applies to the other characters that you’ll see in the game (who are all clad in space suits) as well as the kinds of enemies that you’ll encounter. Moon Chronicles also uses the stereoscopic 3D feature of the 3DS really well – I experienced little to no frame rate issues or any image blurring. It does bear mentioning that while the in-game visuals were enhanced for the 3DS, the cutscenes were not. All of the cutscenes were quite grainy, like Renegade Kid just took them out of the DS version of Moon and put them in here.

The game mechanics are solid, but feel a bit dated. Moon Chronicles reminded me a lot of classic Doom where you only walk around – there’s no jumping, climbing, or any other actions that you can do in modern FPS games. And in some ways, I think this put limitations on the stage design which is somewhat lacking –  for the most part, it didn’t feel like I was exploring a real building with areas that had a purpose to it (e.g. having a mess hall or a boiler room). I want to avoid spoilers so I won’t get into details about the levels – so just trust me when I say that the levels could have had more purpose to them other than to give you halls and paths to explore.

Thankfully, there are a few levels that involve driving around on the surface of the Moon in a lunar rover that offers something a little different from the usual. Also, you’ll be able to obtain an item called the Remote Access Droid (RAD) early on that you can control remotely. The addition of the RAD in the game adds some puzzle solving to Moon Chronicles – there are levels with barriers that need to be disabled before you can push forward, and you’ll need to send off the RAD through vents and find the switches that control these barriers.

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Some of the levels in Moon Chronicles are set on the Moon’s surface. There’s even a few driving levels!

I also found the variety of enemies and bosses to be lacking as well. There are only a few different kinds of enemies that you’ll be facing and some of them are mere palette swaps. My biggest issue though is the enemy AI – most of the time, all you need to do is hide from the enemy’s line of sight and it’ll completely forget about you, so a good part of the battles will involve you peering back and forth behind walls.

As for the controls, I liked that Moon Chronicles has several control configuration options that players can choose from. You can either use the stylus, the Circle Pad Pro accessory, the face buttons, or the C-Stick of the New Nintendo 3DS to control aiming. Unfortunately, all of these options come with problems – the C-Stick, as New Nintendo 3DS owners have come to expect, isn’t really good for precision aiming. The same can be said of the face buttons as you needed to press two buttons in the right way to be able to move your aim diagonally. The most accurate option is to use the stylus but that entails that you hold your 3DS with one hand throughout the play session, which may become hard on the wrists especially for those who are playing the game on the heavier 3DS XL versions. There’s also an option available for left-handed players which places the movement controls on the face buttons. Cycling between weapons is also quite easy as it can be done by pressing left or right on the D-Pad but it can be a little tricky late in the game once you’ve already gotten several different weapons especially during the heat of battle.

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Using the stylus for aiming felt a lot like using a mouse on the PC or the Wiimote. I’d enjoy this control scheme more if only the 3DS XL wasn’t so heavy.

I don’t mention this a lot when doing game reviews because I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to music and soundtracks, but boy did the level themes of Moon Chronicles annoy me! A good part of the game, maybe 80% of the time, I was listening to tracks that were riffs of barely seven to ten notes that just kept looping over and over. It wouldn’t have been blatantly repetitive if the note sequences were longer or had more variety.

Now let me talk about the story – it’s actually quite decent. Moon Chronicles presents this in a similar fashion to Metroid Prime – you get to read about what’s really going on by accessing terminals throughout the levels. I found the overall plot to be engaging enough to keep me pushing forward despite the lackluster level design. When I learned about what the lunar structures were being used for, I was actually surprised.

Moon Chronicles, unfortunately, does not have any multiplayer modes. It has additional stages that aren’t part of the main Campaign mode to extend it’s play value, and all the stages can be played on three different difficulty settings. For replayability, the game tracks your completion time of each stage on all three difficulty settings so if you like beating your personal high scores, this may help squeeze some extra value out of the game.

As you can see, Moon Chronicles has a lot of good things going for it, but a lot of opportunities as well. Overall, it is a decent FPS game on a system that has very few games of it’s kind. It really reminded me of both Doom (because of its basic FPS mechanics) and Metroid Prime (because of its themes of isolation). The controls aren’t as good but again that’s more of a limitation of the 3DS than of the game, and the graphics are decent enough.

The biggest problem that Moon Chronicles had when it was first released is the manner in which it came out. The game was split up into four episodes, with Episode One being made available digitally on Nintendo’s eShop for $8.99 back in May 2014. The rest of the episodes were sold at $4.50 each, but you could get a “season pass” and get the rest of the episodes for just $9.00. They didn’t come out right away though – people had to wait until February 2015 to get their hands on the full game. Unfortunately, Episode One was quite short and honestly not worth the price that it was selling for. The succeeding Episodes hold the meat of the game, but it’s easy to see how someone could pass these up after having a taste of Episode One. Anyone who liked what they experienced in that first episode but were turned off by it’s length should reconsider getting Moon Chronicles – the succeeding Episodes really are longer and are packed with more action.

But if I look at the entirety of Moon Chronicles and factor in a total price of $17.99 (Episode One + Season Pass), I would have to say that it’s only worth checking out if you enjoy FPS games. It’s flaws hold Moon Chronicles back from being a really good game, but it’s decent and playable for a good 10-15 hours. Personally, I can’t get enough of FPS games so I found Moon Chronicles to be entertaining enough and long enough to be worth the money I spent on it.

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