Moon Diver Hands-On Preview

The director of Strider tries his hand at a new downloadable multiplayer action game.

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You might not immediately recognize the name Kouichi Yotsui, but if you've been playing video games for a while, you probably know some of his work--most notably Capcom's popular action game, Strider. Not surprisingly, Yotsui's newest project, Moon Diver, bears some resemblance to the arcade classic in fundamental ways. Each of the four playable characters is equipped with a melee weapon that functions not unlike Strider Hiryu's scythe in that attacks are rapid, but they have relatively short range. Additionally, each of these four characters can also cling to walls and other surfaces to attack enemies or to just generally avoid danger.

Indeed, Moon Diver's core gameplay feels very Strider-like, but there are some key differences that give Moon Diver the depth its arcade ancestor lacks. Each character starts with varying stats for health, magic, and power--the kind of stats you start out with will be determined by the character you choose. For example, if you select Seyfert, you'll have balanced stats, whereas if you select the beefy Ourion, then you'll have more power than the other characters. This means that your strategy, at least early on in Moon Diver, will be largely dictated by your character's strengths. But, as you kill enemies, you gain experience and eventually level up. At the end of each stage (or restarting one after death), you have the opportunity to put extra points into individual stats, so if you find that your character isn't strong enough or you're running out of magic power too quickly, then you can increase your stats in those areas to compensate.

This becomes an increasingly important aspect of Moon Diver as you progress through increasingly difficult stages found within each level. Moon Diver can be quite punishing at times if you're not closely paying attention to what's happening onscreen or if you're not using all the tools at your disposal. One such tool is the moonsault combination--a special ability that uses your magic power. What these special abilities do depends on which ones you have equipped. You can have up to four equipped at once (accessible via the D pad), but each character starts with a single default moonsault. Some of them are offensive oriented, shooting out bolts of energy or causing your character to zip around the screen to inflict damage on all enemies in the area. Others are passive, granting you some extra power for brief periods of time or even enabling stealth that momentarily prevents cannons and other such weapons from tracking you. To get these other abilities, or to use stronger versions of them, you have to find them as they're generally placed in hard-to-reach areas within a level.

Up to four players can play at once.
Up to four players can play at once.

The dynamics of the moonsault combinations are changed somewhat when participating in a four-player multiplayer game (players can drop in and out at any time). In fact, you can actually team up with other players to use one of these abilities. If one player requests to do a moonsault with you, then you receive the benefit of not losing any magic power for doing so. This feature is especially handy with dealing with some tough bosses that are easy to waste magic on if you're not careful. Of course, just having other players in a game to help deal out damage is pretty helpful as well.

The nice thing about Moon Diver's leveling system and your various skills is that you do become noticeably stronger throughout the course of the game. Enemies that appeared in earlier levels are easily dispatched in later levels with a powered-up character, but Moon Diver will throw plenty of other challenges at you during the course of the game that require more than just a strong character to survive. Moon Diver is currently scheduled for release on March 29 on the PlayStation Network and sometime in April for Xbox Live Arcade.

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