Featured StoryIndie GameModern GenPCPS4PS5ReviewsSwitchXboxXbox OneXbox Series X

Review: Moonscars [PC]

A dark fantasy tale of blood, grit, and ichor.

It all started with a painting. When Ștefan Semionov painted a woman riding a horse into a dense forest back in 2015, he knew he had a visual style set for his game. That game, Moonscars, combines the beautifully morose strokes of Dutch oil paintings with the brutal darkness of Dark Souls.

Taking heavy inspiration from the Souls series in both looks and gameplay, Moonscars essentially translates the tough-as-nails combat from that series into 2D. More like a Metroidvania than a traditional Souls game in the mechanics department, the developers at Black Mermaid have crafted a difficult, beautiful, and brooding adventure.

There’s been no shortage of tough-as-hell platformers over the past few years, especially from indie developers. Yet most of them provide difficulty through insane platforming challenges, testing your agility and dexterity. Moonscars takes a different approach, emphasizing the action in action-platformer with combat that will drive you up the wall.

With its gorgeous aesthetics and eventually-satisfying combat, Moonscars is a great time once it connects with you. Unfortunately, for some, the hooks might not dig in deep enough to really resonate thanks to some odd balancing and difficulty choices. When Moonscars finally hits the sweet spot, it can be a fantastic experience — but it may take a while to get there after you begin.

Moonscars Story 2

A tale of flesh and bone

Moonscars tells the tale of Grey Irma, the clay replica of a soldier born from the hands of the Sculptor. The Sculptor crafted many clay warriors for his king, but now there are only a handful remaining. Irma wakes up after being slain in a fierce battle one day with her memory hazy and the world torn to chaos. Armed only with the knowledge of her creator, she sets off to discover why she was created and what the Sculptor plans to do next.

Any fan of old mythology might have immediately recognized one of Moonscars’ chief inspirations. Semionov noted that the narrative takes influence from the classical myth of Pygmalion. Pygmalion was a sculptor whose statue Galatea came to life after he expressed his undying love for his creation.

The game’s designer and writer Andriy Moroz puts a darker spin on this classic tale, where the romance is far more tragic and the creation has far more agency. Like a clay Frankenstein’s monster, Irma roams the battlefield in search of the one who brought her to life. Admittedly a simple setup, but the premise is immediately intriguing thanks to the dark atmosphere.

Moonscars Gameplay 1

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the story to unravel, mostly because of the way it’s communicated. The dialogue in Moonscars is rather lacking thanks to both the less-than-stellar proofreading and odd tone. The former issue I won’t harp on, but when the characters all just speak in a vague, bordering-nonsensical voice, it becomes very hard to pin down exactly what’s happening.

A case of letting the mood tell the story, I suppose, but without enough solid details to really chew on, I was left more confused than anything else by the end.

Slay the clay

While the broader inspirations for Moonscars’ gameplay lie in the Souls series, the basic gameplay is following the Metroidvania template through and through. Perhaps better described as an action-platformer, the game tasks you with traversing a “non-linear” environment and hunting down enemies.

It’s standard stuff if you’ve played a Metroidvania before. You’ve got one giant map, a smattering of sub-areas, all connected by hallways and vertical shafts that bridge everything together. And in-between that is a whole lot of action.

Moonscars Gameplay 2

And what awesome action it is — once you get the hang of it, anyway. Irma has the running, jumping, and dashing that’s old hat for a Metroidvania, plus a big ol’ sword for chopping up adversaries. When the going gets tough (and it definitely gets tough), she can also heal herself at any time by consuming ichor, a resource dropped from your enemies upon death.

In addition to a standard three-hit combo, Irma can also blast away with magic called Witchery. These are powerful spells that deal a lot of damage. They also cost ichor to use, and are a personal favorite to use against bosses. I’m partial to the Boulder spell which sends a targeted strike to up to three enemies around you, as well as the Stone Pillars for a solid vertical tower of pain. You can also parry to stun your enemies, I suppose, but honestly, I never found this as useful as dodging out of the way with the dash.

Moonscars’ combat can be incredibly satisfying, especially later in the game as Irma powers her stats up with items hidden around the overworld. The controls are mostly responsive (a few delayed inputs, but nothing too bad) and the impacts feel nice and solid.

Moonscars Gameplay 5

Hardened in the kiln

With the influence of Dark Souls on full display, the first question you’ll probably have is the obvious one. That being: how hard is Moonscars? Well, yeah, it’s pretty hard.

Even with the change in perspective, the game is difficult in much the same way that FromSoftware’s dark fantasy series. Long stretches between checkpoints, quick attacks from your foes, large chunks of health taken from you when you get hurt, the list goes on. It’s a case where Irma is a capable warrior, but so is just about anyone else in your path.

That’s especially true if you don’t satiate the Moonhunger. This is a mechanic by which upon your death, the moon turns blood red and the game gets even harder. Enemies deal and take more damage, and you can only turn this off by sacrificing a gland, which you can pick up on the field.

And this is where the game’s difficulty scale starts to get wonky.

Moonscars Gameplay 4

Let’s start with the obvious stuff. It’s very strange how the option to scale the game’s difficulty down requires sacrificing a resource. I think I understand what Black Mermaid wanted to do here. But in practice, it essentially makes the Moonhunger system a “ignore it or suffer” factor. Even after offering a gland, the enemies and especially the bosses are still pretty tough. When you hit a wall you’re having trouble surpassing, you may find yourself wasting glands left and right in a vain attempt to move on.

An imperfect mold

The game is also hard in ways that make Moonscars occasionally frustrating. Although the map is generally helpful in figuring out where you need to go, I still found myself consulting it way too much trying to figure out where to go next. With the story details unclear, it never felt like I truly understood which way was the right way. And I don’t think this is intentional, as it does push you towards your goal. Just not far enough to make you sure, and without any chance of asking for help.

Accessibility has also seemingly been left by the wayside. I’m not talking about the unchangeable difficulty: simple things like remapping controls also aren’t in the game. And player beware: there have been several reported glitches that can potentially make your game unwinnable. I encountered one myself after beating a boss and dying in the same instance, which kept the door to progress locked.

Moonscars Story 1

Black Mermaid has launched a patch to the Steam version already and has sent out the console version as well. So if nothing else, the developers are listening to feedback already. That’s to be commended for sure.

But while the gameplay does have a few cracks in it, I can’t say the same for the phenomenal aesthetics. The graphics are like a pixelated painting, simultaneously retro and modern dark fantasy. The colors especially blend together so wonderfully to create a gorgeous exterior.

It looks great in motion, too, with the animations especially being a highlight. Each character has their own flair in their movements with subtle and obvious details that make them stand out. Irma especially looks incredible, and I love the special attack sprites in particular. With a solid dark orchestral soundtrack and great sound design, if nothing else, Moonscars is an aesthetic delight.

Moonscars Gameplay 3

Closing thoughts

Despite the issues I had with Moonscars, and there are a significant amount, I was able to look past a lot of them when all was said and done. The combat is snappy and satisfying with plenty of absolutely amazing maneuvers to pull off. And it’s all rendered in a fantastic coat of paint, dripping with atmosphere and mood and drawing you in right from the get-go.

And yet it’s hard for me to really recommend Moonscars, especially to the average person. You need to understand what you’re getting in for — a hardcore action-platformer that’s meant to drive you insane. And if you can accept that, you’re probably in for a treat. Everyone else should be weary of the game’s confusing difficulty curve and design, as well as its lack of accessability options. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for the curious, it’s certainly worth a try.

Moonscars is developed by Black Mermaid and published by Humble Games. It is available now for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC via Steam. It’s also available on Xbox and PC Game Pass.




Moonscars is a solid, if not properly balanced, Metroidvania that takes the brutal combat of Dark Souls and shifts it into 3D. When the gameplay lands, it lands hard with solid fighting mechanics and a litany of spells at your disposal to dish out the damage. Unfortunately, some unbalanced difficulty and a lack of engaging storytelling holds it back from being a truly great time.

User Rating: Be the first one !

Daniel Hein

Daniel Hein is either A) a lifelong video game fanatic, writer, and storyteller just sharing his thoughts on things, or B) some kind of werewolf creature. We're not quite sure which yet. He also makes mediocre video game retrospectives (and other content!) on YouTube where you can watch him babble on for hours about nothing.
Back to top button