The halcyon days of the roguelike are over. While procedural elements continue to pop up in bigger games, pure arcadey gauntlets are on the decline. It’s inevitable, particularly after how prominent they were these past few years. With so many amazing and time-consuming releases this generation, how can any new contender compete? MOSS DESTRUCTION sees the team at Shotgun with Glitters give it the old college try by focusing on style. While the low-poly world is certainly unique and worth seeing, it’s unlikely that you’ll be taking a long-term vacation from Isaac for this one.
You play as one of the last warriors defending the Mossorian Empire. This race of green slug-type beings is up against an allied alliance of other species. After enclosing the Mossorian sun in a sphere, this band of no-gooders is going in for the kill. Thankfully, you don’t have to fight them as a green slug, because the Mossorians have battle mechs. Just equip whatever power-up cartridges you see lying around and climb in. You’re about to face the horde.
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Boy, what a horde they are. Starting off with robot drones and suicide robots, you eventually take on ax-throwing alligators, shotgun-wielding turtles and sneaky armadillos. Every new world and even sometimes stages within the worlds introduce interesting bad guys that act a bit differently than their cohorts. Depicted in gloriously lo-fi rendering, stomping through the Mossorian homeworld is a feast for the eyes. Sure, the looping music leaves something to be desired, but it is never visually boring.
For something so clearly focused on style, Moss Destruction is pretty unique. Not only do the graphics harken back to the PlayStation 1 era, but the artwork that the graphics represent also call back to that timeframe. Everyone looks like a character from a lost Nickelodeon show sandwiched between Invader Zim and ChalkZone. Each power-up you acquire has an accompanying drawing in this style alongside huge word art that would fit right in on a comics page. It seems to be an eclectic string of inspirations, but they all come together well.
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Moss Destruction‘s gameplay has similarly eclectic origins, but they don’t mesh in the same way. You start off with a single low damage zapper twin-stick shooting all manner of alien creature. You slowly pick up new weapons as you try to find an exit and move on the next stage. Each level starts off with some neat looking pixelated smoke, and you need to aim your character toward it to clear up the fog of war.
Unfortunately, levels aren’t that hard to work out. Early on, they’re never more complicated than a loop with maybe one path going off to the side. They try to add keycard gates to complicate things, but the random generation can make it so that opening the gate isn’t necessary to proceed. Later levels get more complex thanks to some mazes and other obstacles, but there’s no sense of discovery by going from room to room.
Even if you want to explore Moss Destruction‘s world a bit more, the game doesn’t let you. There’s a strict timer to complete each stage, meant to prevent you from just grinding enemies to level up and earn more upgrades. After the sun goes down, the difficulty keeps ramping up until it’s almost impossible to survive unless you’ve got a strong character build going. But that is just a dice roll that is left up to the random generation. The mad dash to the exit makes for some fun encounters, probably the best in the whole game but these hordes rush you through the stages at an unnatural pace.
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Once you finish a level, Moss Destruction generates a set of mech upgrades for you to choose from. You get one upgrade for each level you gain, usually two per stage unless you’re hanging around. This should be one of the most exciting parts of the experience, where you’re building your loadout and strategically picking which direction your mech will go. In practice, a lot of the upgrades just aren’t that interesting. Loads of them tie into very specific abilities that you might not even have equipped. Plenty more are just standard damage or armor boosts, and none of them change your character visually. It doesn’t feel like you’re really becoming all-powerful, even if you are.
There are a few upgrades that stand out from the rest. One is an orbiting sphere that deflects projectiles and another is a minion robot that seeks out and attacks foes. Both add to the visuals of your character and increase your survivability, which is a real bonus. There are spheres you can pick up in-game that act like pills in Isaac. These are the main way to increase your health, but they can have good and bad effects. You’re just as likely to jam your weapon or start walking slowly than to get a bonus to your stats.
If power-ups are lacking in a roguelike, you can only hope that some of the weapons pick up the slack but, sadly, this isn’t the case in Moss Destruction. Weapons come in three categories despite their multiple different ammo types. There are those that fire slow-moving projectiles that deal out minimal damage. There are explosives that often blow up in your face due to the required close quarters combat. Take those out of the equation, and you have the weapons that actually get the job done. I found myself constantly using the Shotgun and Assault Rifle while only briefly dabbling elsewhere. They seemed to be the only options that killed things efficiently.
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Moss Destruction tries to encourage weapon variety by splitting up the ammo distribution. Even then, I rarely found it necessary to change up what I was doing. A few runs did end abruptly because I ran out of bullets, but I chalk that up to luck rather than any innate fault. In those situations, I could still use my active power-up abilities to try to scrounge up ammo from fallen foes. There are some neat powers here, like an atomic belt that sends out a massive damaging shockwave. It’s fun to use, but its large cooldown makes it easy to forget that it is there. No matter what I did in Moss Destruction, I was eventually back to the same ol’ shotgun grind.
There needs to be more options, both in the weapons and in the power-ups you receive. You have to unlock new items into your pool slowly by collecting crystals in the world and bringing them to a “secret shop” that appears once per level. The number of items you have available at the start is rather limiting, and you need to play hours of runs before you’ll start unlocking some more interesting gear. Confusingly, some of the earliest upgrades in this system give you more slots for other upgrades, so it’s possible you’ll get the capacity to hold more power-ups before you accrue enough power-ups to max out.
This is a problem that a lot of games in this genre run into. You’re designing something that’s supposed to be repeatable, but you just don’t have enough ways to expand when you’re starting out. A game like Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon started off as much more limited in scope before expanding once the player base exploded. If you’re just releasing a rougelike now, you have to hit it out of the park just to be able to get on your feet. You have to offer something interesting and engaging even without the power-ups. But not even the basic shooting of Moss Destruction can hang, even in the best case scenario. And when the core is a bit rotten, that’s not a good sign.
GameRevolution reviewed Moss Destruction on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developers.