Running and slashing. Slashing and running. Tried and true mechanics that date back to the days of Strider. Speaking of which, one of the brains behind the original Strider is behind yet another futuristic ninja title. Moon Diver, as it's called, is heavy on the running and slashing, but mixes it up by throwing in a dash of RPG style character progression and Crackdown-esque orb hunting. It's not ground breaking stuff by any means, but Moon Diver is well aware of it's limits and doesn't try to do too much. Fortunately, the old formula doesn't feel outdated or stale, and I'll even go as far to say it works to an extent.
Sometime in the near future, the world is being cleansed of humanity by a pretty-boy sociopath who refuses to rest until the deed is done. Mankind's last remaining hope are a band of specially trained ninjas, who moonlight as normal folk when they're not fighting genocidal maniacs. That's what I was able to gather from the story, which is told cryptically through near unintelligible cut scenes that are made up of dreary music, still images, and antagonist Faust poetically speaking of the water, sky, and trees, a la Bob Ross.
Running and slashing! That's a good chunk of what comprises Moon Diver, and for the most part, works pretty well. You choose between four characters (five if you include the recent DLC addition), and run through a variety of stages, ranging in both length and difficulty. As you use each character their level increases, allowing you to increase the amount of slashes you can dish out before the cycle resets, and also granting ability points, which you're able to assign to fortify your health bar, magic pool, or overall amount of damage you output. This, along with the ability to assign four different Moonsault Combinations (see: spells) for each character, gives you a moderate level of customization that can result in a very loose class system.
One of Moon Diver's primary buying points is four player co-op, both local and online. It's a good time to hop in with a few friends, pick your favorite character, and get down to the slashing. The brightly colored ninjas do well standing out from each other, making it fairly difficult to lose track of yourself, even when the screen is brimming with enemies, spells, and swords. The game reaches nigh sadistic levels of difficulty as you progress, to the point where playing by yourself seems like an impossibility. Should you die, there's a 10 second period where a teammate can bring you back into the fray, which is a luxury you don't have if you're playing solo. And if you die for good, you have to start the lengthy levels from the start, plodding cut scene included, which you can't skip.
Playing a quick match online is terribly organized, leading to Moon Diver's main drawback. When you find a quick match, odds are you will be dropped into a game already in progress, without knowing who your region-free teammates will be playing as. Do not pick the red ninja Seyfert, or the purple ninja Hitori, as 80% of online players will also have chosen one of the two. This means there's a high probablity that you'll find yourself in a game with four Seyferts, without any color variants to distinguish players. As you can imagine, this becomes incredibly messy and annoying. Other nitpicks are the lack of an online party system, and inability to bring any more than one local player into an online match.
The character designs are really well done, with each of the games leading characters exuding a very unique personality through their clothing, weapon, and colors. The same cannot be said for the majority of the enemies you will face, which lack any real personality. They seem to be simple variations of each other, who are content to just stand in wait of Death's sweet release.
The backgrounds of each stage do not possess the same detail as the main cast. Much like the enemy fodder, backdrops are bland and uninspired, offering little to no eye candy.
The music is mostly forgettable, but I did find myself grooving with the stock electro-rock on a few occasions, leading me to kick myself in the head promptly after realizing it. Effects generally consist of 25 slashing sounds, followed by 5 screams, followed by two explosions, in rapid succession, over and over again. Sound is not Moon Diver's strongest suit, but it does just enough to keep the player's head in the game.
For fans of side scrolling action with steep difficulty, Moon Diver is it. It's especially fun if you've got 2 or 3 local or online friends with the same taste as you. In an organized group, Moon Diver's bright characters, customization, Moonsault Combination hunting (there are over 50 scattered throughout the game), and difficulty curve can provide hours of fun. However single players, or those seeking to build a team online, may want to think twice before venturing in.
Buy it if: You have 2 or 3 friends to play with, you appreciate an old school challenge
Don't buy it if: You're a single player looking for a game to breeze through
The Score: 7 outta 10 Blasters!