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Moonstone (Amiga) artwork

Moonstone (Amiga) review


"“The Gods Pause for a Moment to Contemplate Your Fate”. A subtext on a loading screen. "



“The Gods Pause for a Moment to Contemplate Your Fate”. A subtext on a loading screen.

The chanting and the weather in the realm have been bad for a while. But now they grow more terrible as the Druids of the realm summon their bravest champions to the stone-circles. No intelligible words are spoken during the ritual. But as it draws to a close, the knight enters and is given an amulet to offer to the heavens. The gods accept the sacrifice with a content thunderclap, and grants him strength and an extended life. In return he accepts the quest for the Moonstone, and sets out under the black sky towards Stonehenge.

There is something genuinely laughable about the entire thing, from the serious tone and the childish language on the screens. But my hair stands up on an edge every time I see the intro. The small but expressive gestures in the simple layered animation, as well as the brooding music, sets the mood instantly when the first loading screen slowly fades in. It describes a vicious terror and excitement, with a slightly ridiculous undertone. But it also provides a simple and terrible narrative purpose for the player, which persists until the game ends.

At the beginning of the quest, you choose up to four of the available knights. Each start in their home-town, one in each of the four corners of the realm. Either a woodland, an open plain, a rocky range, or a marshland. With monsters and encounters that fit the theme. Knights can then travel to the other realms via the overworld map from their starting locations. And they certainly will as the season of the moonstone draws to an end.

The quest would end successfully any time before this. If you find the four keys to the Valley and challenge the Guardian, you can bring a Moonstone back to Stonehenge and end the quest. It is actually possible to complete the game in only a few days. But unless you know where the keys will be hidden, you will most likely be travelling the realm back and forth many times, finding new equipment and fighting increasingly terrifying enemies. Of course, as the moon grows, the rat-men and the monsters become stronger. But then again, so do you if you spend your time wisely.

Wisely, as in not pestering mad wizards for favours too much. Or avoiding the deep caves if you are unprepared, or the fire-breathing dragon that sweeps across the plains. And not gambling away all of your sword and armour money in Waterdeep. After all, you have to fight the monsters and the other knights by cutting them in half, chopping their heads off, and stabbing them through the stomach.

This is also without a doubt the high point of the game (which is saying a lot). The game had a relatively complicated animation system at the time, where the 2d overlays move in fake depth on the flat and static background. But in addition to the different chopping, stabbing and hewing moves, all of which have force and movement, the game has several situation-specific animations as well. Whether it is the death and pain of the monsters or the death of your knight. There's a depth to the animation system that easily tops the rolling intro-sequence when it comes to the childish viciousness as well as the leering humour.

It also bears to be mentioned that while this game was made when games still came with a manual, the manual itself actually doesn't explain the mechanics of the game. Neither are the game-mechanics explained in embarrassing detail during lengthy tutorial sequences. And you are expected to figure out on your own how to counter attacks, or how the various items and level up mechanics work.

But the beauty of it is that this is really, really enjoyable. Even though you keep getting killed, you will come back to this game time and again. Until you finally complete the quest, and are granted a place among the stars in the heavens.

Moonstone is an adolescent fairy-tale with extremely violent, if somewhat cartoony graphics. But it is a childish game in a genuine way, without the pretentiousness and arrogance a typical game-designer would make the game with today. The game can be played by up to four players, either with keyboard or joystick input. (Note, the DOS version does not deal gracefully with simultaneous key-presses, and can't be played well with two-player on a keyboard, unlike the Amiga-version).

Rating: 10/10

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Featured community review by fleinn (February 14, 2011)

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JoeTheDestroyer posted February 28, 2011:

Two things:

1) This is a great, passionate review. Great job, fleinn!

2) I noticed that this hasn't been added to the list of featured reviews yet, though it won the last RotW.
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fleinn posted March 01, 2011:

:D haha. Thanks. I don't know.. I played this game the first time at a friend's house.. His brother had an a500 (with extra bogo-ram), and we stole some time with it. I'm not entirely sure how old I was, but I remember being physically shaken when that monster in the swamp attacked.

Ten years later or something like that, I dug up my own A500 from a closet.. pulled out the floppy-discs, found Moonstone.. Booted it up, smiled. Whacked some ratmen. And then the same damned monster scared the crap out of me.

So yeah.. it's a game that made a real impression on me. But it's also an extremely well made game. Not just the graphics and the sound-effects, but the way the design succeeds in using the abstractions to tell a story. Like shadow-theatre, or Chinese puppets for example - they're extremely expressive in spite of (and sometimes because of) the limited breadth of expression.

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