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Dead Moon (TurboGrafx-16) artwork

Dead Moon (TurboGrafx-16) review

"In Dead Moon, only during boss fights, your ship turns around and faces left once you reach the screen’s right edge. You’ll feel like you're in an actual arena, struggling to survive a battle with a true rival. The game makes full use of this mechanic, too; bosses will fly all over the screen, forcing you to constantly remain on the move in order to stay alive."

After recently spending so much time working through Abadox (NES), which is loaded with cheap ways to increase difficulty, I was almost relieved to play Natsume's Dead Moon. Released in 1991 for the TurboGrafx-16, the newer game doesn't assail you with cramped corridors and enemies that lurk just out of your gun's reach, or with moments when the action seems to be at its fiercest because you have next to no room to maneuver. You also won't have to watch your overpowered ship immediately become an impotent wreck the instant a bullet grazes your wing, and your chances of success won't be doomed once you lose your first life because--if nothing else--the replacement ship you receive after meeting your demise is least be able to move quickly enough to dodge enemies. Compared to its predecessor, Dark Moon is almost relaxing… to the extent that is possible when a game requires some degree of twitch reflexes!

Dead Moon screenshot Dead Moon screenshot

Dead Moon is all about the action. Enemies clog its six horizontally-scrolling levels, coming at you from every angle, but there’s no threat of collision against encroaching walls as you dodge hostile fire. You're free to zip all around the screen, shooting at anything that moves while collecting power-ups. The campaign consists of pure action with no level memorization required. Yes, that’s a nice change of pace.

Though Dead Moon isn't a memorable game by any stretch, it admirably fits the bill when you’re looking for a simple and fun shooter. There are only six stages and the last of those is quite short, so it probably won't take that long for decently skilled players to see the mission through to its completion. Helping those players along is a power-up system that also essentially serves as a life meter. There are four differently-colored enhancements to your basic gun, ranging from lasers to spread shots and wave attacks. Each one offers three levels of potency, which in turn allows you to cover more and more of the screen as you grow stronger. If you take the wave shot (which I always tend to do when it's an option in these games), you'll start with a small projectile that really is little more than a larger version of your basic attack, and over time build up to the point where you’ll be emitting beams that cover nearly a third of the screen. If you take a hit with a powered-up ship, you simply lose one level of power until you're stripped down to the basics, at which point a hit is fatal.

Missiles, bombs and shields all work to improve your survival rate. You can collect icons to receive homing missiles, which are really useful in a game like this where the action can get truly frenetic at times. During those moments when you're feeling overwhelmed, bombs are great for clearing the air. Shields, meanwhile, are both godly and a curse. They appear as orbs that spin around your ship at a high rate of speed, and they’re mostly effective at blocking enemy fire. However, I found their presence tended to lead to a false sense of security. When the shields didn't intercept a bullet and I took damage, I'd almost feel like I was victimized by cheapness. I think that's why I always preferred the Gradius style of shield that covers your entire ship but vanishes after absorbing a few shots. It's better to have a situation where you know whether a shot will damage you or not, versus one when you have a shield that will probably work… but might instead let a bullet through your defensive layer instead.

When it comes to problems with power-ups, I should also mention that once you shoot the capsules to make them appear, they bounce up and down on the screen until you either pick them up or they scroll away. I'm just not a fan of that system. I'm the sort of guy who finds something he likes (you know, the wave shot) and uses it as much as possible. When a game is reasonably intense all on its own, I don't really want to unnecessarily add to the chaos because I'm busy trying to dodge an unwanted laser pick-up and am forced to pay as much attention to it as I do to all the enemy ships and their bullets.

Little things like that are what keep Dead Moon from advancing from good to great, and there’s also the matter of the game’s aforementioned brevity. The first five stages all contain a mini-boss and a boss (with one of them going the extra mile and including two separate mini-bosses), while the sixth stage is a good bit shorter and only contains one three-part boss fight.

I also get this bizarre sense that the designers had only a vague idea of what they wanted in their game, but weren't really sure what to do. If you stay on the title screen, you'll be taken to this lengthy (for a shooter) plot summary stating that some comet was coming close to Earth, so one nation’s government or another used some missiles to blast it into the moon. This led to an alien invasion that prompted you, the player, to fly up to the moon and into its core to settle things with the intruders. The leaders of this invasion (ie: the level bosses) tend to be giant skeletal beasts (hence the name "DEAD Moon") with the one exception being the turtle-like beast that appears at the end of the second level. However, everything else fits more into the "generic sci-fi shooter" mold and could have appeared in virtually any other such game from this era. That is the sort of minor (and possibly inconsequential) thing that annoys me more than anything else: a company comes up with a neat idea, but doesn't fully implement it, which means occasionally cool moments surrounded by vast stretches that are thoroughly forgettable.

Dead Moon screenshot Dead Moon screenshot

Most of the cool moments in this case involve the boss fights. Usually in these games, you'll arrive on the scene while positioned along the left side of the screen. Then your adversary will appear at the right side, and the fight plays out with both you and the enemy vessel remaining on your respective sides. Occasionally in a typical shooter, there will be a mobile enemy and you'll have to move all over the screen to dodge its attacks, but you'll normally wind up back on the left side because your best attacks are emitted from the front of your ship. In Dead Moon, only during boss fights, your ship turns around and faces left once you reach the screen’s right edge. You’ll feel like you're in an actual arena, struggling to survive a battle with a true rival. The game makes full use of this mechanic, too; bosses will fly all over the screen, forcing you to constantly remain on the move in order to stay alive.

The lively boss fights would likely be a highlight in many games, and they really call attention to themselves in Dead Moon because most of the rest of the adventure is so typical. While this isn't the sort of game that's you should really go out of your way to experience, it does at least provide a good bit of fun and serves as a great change of pace once you tire of the more methodical obstacle-filled stages you might tend to expect from a horizontally-scrolling shooter. Even at its worst, this is still a solid game that's worth the time.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (April 13, 2013)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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