Review: Moonscars Is a Stylish Side Scrolling Soulslike

It feels like you can’t open up Steam without being greeted by a new soulslike. With the runaway success of From Software’s gritty, cryptic action role-playing games, it’s not surprising that I can’t get away from soulslike games. And while that might sound great, no one does them quite as well as From Software. Moonscars wouldn’t be the first game to try the soulslike formula in 2D, but it makes some decisions that make it stand out from its peers.

Moonscars is a 2D action role-playing soulslike. In it, you play as a “‘clayborne”--a sort of golem–named Grey Irma. If you like cryptic lore, Moonscars really goes all out. In fact, the entire game is a sort of mystery as you try to uncover the secrets of Grey Irma’s origins and the secrets of the world–secrets you won’t discover without a little bit of dying along the way.

Screenshot: Moonscars

Combat in Moonscars is fast-paced, deadly, and mechanically satisfying. Well-timed screen shakes really help to hammer home the impact of heavy weapons, and enemies explode into spatters of gore–or are impaled against spikes. While Moonscars has only one main weapon, you have a chance to fight your doppelganger to gain powerful secondary weapons. These weapons are powerful, but usually come with a payoff in timing–if you don’t strike at the correct time, you leave yourself vulnerable to attack. 

Healing and magic are interconnected in Moonscars. Moonscars employs a combat magic system called Witchcraft. Using these spells “spoils” your magic stat called “ichor,” while healing depletes it completely. Hitting enemies restores it back from spoils, and from depletion.

Screenshot: Moonscars

Parrying is an essential part of combat, which often gives you the chance to do massive riposte damage. Enemies will blink red before a parryable attack, and the window for parrying an attack seems pretty wide–so parrying isn’t as difficult as it is in some soulslike games. That doesn’t mean Moonscars is easy, however. 

Moonscars is a pretty punishing game–expect to die, even if you’re seasoned with soulslike games. Dying in Moonscars can be pretty punishing. If you die, the moon hungers, and enemies become more difficult. They also drop more “bone dust,” Moonscar’s version of souls, which is used to upgrade your character’s “witchcraft.” The only way to sate the moon is to consume “glands” in a ritual. But these glands are finite, and also used as a currency–so it’s easy to get stuck in the harder game mode without an easy way out.

Screenshot: Moonscars

While Moonscars has satisfying and punishing combat, it manages to look pretty good, too. The animations in Moonscars are so smooth they almost look rotoscoped. There isn’t much color throughout its bleak world, however, except for shades of grey and smatterings of blood red. 

I definitely enjoyed the time I spent with Moonscars. It’s one of the most gorgeous 2D soulslikes I’ve ever played, with top-notch character animations. It has a cryptic lore that could satisfy those who enjoy a bleak mystery, but I found its attempts at storytelling to be contrived–it tries too hard at the souls-style cryptic storytelling. Moonscars is a good 2D soulslike, and will give you hours of challenge. However, it’s still just an imitation of From Software’s formula, and ends up feeling like it

. Moonscars is available now on PC via Steam and on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox.

A Steam key was provided to us for this review.

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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.