You might not know it looking at me now — I haven’t played a game in many years — but I used to be a huge fan of Pokemon. When I was younger, I collected all of the cards, and I do mean all of them, before losing them in a robbery. I also watched the anime, and for years I continued to play the video games up until FireRed. I might have lost interest, but the series was a big part of my childhood, as it was for many people that grew up during the height of its popularity.

Now I’m a big fan of Undead Labs, who you might recognize as the developer of one of the games on my list of horror picks last year, State of Decay.  So when I heard that Undead Labs were making a game about catching monsters to battle with, I was interested. That game is called Moonrise, and until recently, it was only available as a mobile title. As of last month, the game is available for PC through Steam’s Early Access program. I had to check it out.

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When you start in Moonrise, you get to create your character and pick your starting monster, which are called Solari. It sounds reminiscent of Pokemon, and indeed, it is. Just like in the Pokemon games, you have three monsters to choose from each with their own element. I opted for the fire element, for no other reason than I liked the look of it. After all, there isn’t much of a difference early on in the game.

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The character creation is a bit limited, but since it’s in Early Access, there might be other options later on. As a result, you might see a lot of players with the same look, at least early on. I haven’t played enough of the game to find out if there are other options, but since the gameplay focuses on the Solari you collect, I don’t think it matters a great deal. Once you finish up with creating your character and picking your Solari, you’re put into a tutorial.

This is where you start to get to know the basic mechanics of the game, and as you might imagine, it’s not particularly complex. You use your Solari to fight other Solari and sometimes battle other Wardens, which are basically trainers for all intents and purposes. Each of your Solari have different abilities, and so too do you as a Warden. As a Warden you have the ability to cast spells, which comes in handy during battles. You start with an elemental spell at the beginning, but you can eventually unlock other spells as well.

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Once you get out into the world, the tutorial continues as a story. Throughout the game you’re given quests, of which there are two main varieties. You can do daily quests, which are optional and give you a reward, or you can follow the story quests which will guide you through the game and familiarize you with the mechanics further. The latter is necessary in order to unlock new areas, so you will find yourself doing that more often to progress.

Of course, the most important thing is how the battle and capture system works. Unfortunately, because it’s a mobile port and has only recently been released on the PC, it’s not particularly good. The system at its core works well, but the one mistake that seems to have been made so far is that at present a lot of the mobile functionality remains intact. When you’re porting something to the PC, one of the main priorities should be to ensure that your game makes proper use of the keyboard.

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The biggest mistake that Undead Labs seem to have made so far is underestimating that importance, at least for the moment. While the game is fun to play, navigating it can be a chore thanks to the way it controls. Majority of interactions with the game and the UI have you clicking and swiping with the mouse, and it doesn’t always work. It can get pretty tiresome, but the game actually runs rather well outside of that.

Thankfully, that should be changing in the future, since the Q&A mentions that changes to the UI and the ability to bind your keys are inbound. There isn’t exactly an ETA thanks to the nature of Early Access, but I hope it happens soon. This also leads into the next point which again comes down to mobile functionality — the microtransactions.

Since the game is eventually moving to free-to-play, and because it’s a mobile port, the game is riddled with microtransactions. For a free-to-play game, that’s okay. But, since the game is in Early Access with a high cost of entry, it’s a little disconcerting. In the time I played I wasn’t compelled to buy anything, but if I were to keep playing, maybe I would be. One thing I noticed is that there is a lot of grinding in the game if you don’t. Want to make things easier? Well, you could buy things — but since you’ve presumably already spent a minimum of $15, should you really have to?

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I don’t think so, and I say that as someone that has played a lot of free-to-play games in the past. I’m still playing Adventure Capitalist, which I’ve just reminded myself that I need to check on. When I say that this game is riddled with microtransactions, I mean it. Moonrise is very typical in the business structure that it employs, the only difference is that instead of energy you’ve got keys, which by the way are used to capture new Solari.

It doesn’t stop there, though. You can buy experience boosters, gold boosters, potions, materials, heck, you can even buy gold by itself. I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is charging $15 for entry to turn around and offer dozens of microtransactions. It just doesn’t sit right with me.

And that’s not to say that Moonrise isn’t a fun game, because it definitely can be — but I find myself wishing that Undead Labs would rethink their position and maybe sell the game at one price while abolishing microtransactions. It’s been done, and it works really well. I mentioned this in an editorial I did about how Steam’s free-to-play section is slowly changing to include lazy ports. I firmly believe that Moonrise is better than that.

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Developer: Undead Labs

Publisher: Undead Labs

Release Date (Early Access): 5/27/15

MSRP: $14.99

What I liked about it:

Moonrise has all the makings of a fun game. The mechanics for the most part work fine at their core, and it offers an experience that you don’t frequently see on the PC. It also adds an MMO twist, which means that it can be fun to compete with friends.

What they can do to improve:

I’d like to see the controls specifically tuned for the PC, along with the UI. I also feel that the game should just drop the microtransactions, which seem to be holding it back. It’s been done successfully before, and I think Moonrise could stand to do the same.

What’s in store for the future:

Undead Labs are working on fine-tuning the PVP experience, along with adding new Solari, new skills, and new locations. It’ll also become free-to-play once it’s out of Early Access.

When you can expect the full release:

Their current target is to have the game largely complete by Fall of 2015, but like always, that’s subject to change.

Disclaimer: A copy of Moonrise was provided to BentoByte by Undead Labs for the purpose of review.

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Adam Capps

About Adam Capps

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Adam Capps is the editor of video games at BentoByte. He spends his days playing video games and his nights writing about them. He's also an avid fan of anime, manga and music.

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