GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon Review (Switch eShop)

It takes mere moments to notice that GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon, the welcome revival of Konami’s Famicom-exclusive action/RPG hybrid GetsuFumaDen, is the once-respected publisher’s uncomfortably close take on Dead Cells‘ excellent ‘action roguelite’ gameplay.

There’s the opening room containing a visual record of every weapon unlocked so far. There’s the sub-weapon cooldown counter. There’s the choice of portals leading to the next randomly generated landscape. There’s the limited health potions, the special weapon attributes, the mixture of permanent and run-exclusive upgrades for everything ensuring every attempt is just that little bit easier than the last, the towering bosses, the damaging double-jump stomp… You can find the much loved older title’s DNA in every aspect of Undying Moon’s gameplay. It’s an understandable but unwise move that sadly doesn’t completely work in this new release’s favour, every newly introduced mechanic and item pick-up only inviting comparison with a more fully featured and original alternative.

It all begins positively enough. There’s no doubt this game is a stunning treat for the eyeballs, every demon and ragged brushstroke giving the impression you’re fighting your way through a living ukiyo-e print. The soundtrack is — if anything — even better, with passionate drum beats running underneath traditional biwa strings and spine-tingling vocals.

Fuma himself is pleasantly nimble to control and the weapons he may come across all have a designated niche to fill; the contrast between the lightning-fast omnidirectional combos of metal fans, the spear’s huge arc, the raw weight of a stone club, the whip’s long reach and more are always immediate and obvious. Enemies, in their overly-repeated presence, also have clearly defined roles to play: The archer, the bruiser, the static chanter who does nothing but boost nearby demons’ abilities to a dangerous degree, the sneaky one prone to disappearing for a short while. With time you start to learn how a few of them behave, and because of that you survive longer than you did before.

And so for the first ten minutes the game’s wonderful — unfortunately every moment after that is riddled with minor issues that quickly snowball into a major headache.

From the very first stage you will encounter enemies capable of not only shooting at you from off-screen but also straight through what should be solid impassable scenery, often leading to you unfairly taking damage in a game where every precious hit point counts. Large monsters capable of big swings are often found on solitary platforms where there’s not enough room to do more than leap at them and hope for the best or tediously pick them off from afar (assuming you’ve picked up the right sub-weapon for the job). The camera can be slightly panned around with the right stick, but never far enough for you to tell if you’re about to leap down to a lower level or into health-sapping thin air before it’s too late.

The game’s practically groaning under the weight of numerous types of consumable materials, but only ever mentions what you’ve got in a few awkward menus, making it difficult to see whether you’ve finally gathered together enough material for that one upgrade for your favourite weapon; this strips away much of the pleasure of collecting and powering up that sits at the very heart of the genre. Some menus even betray the game’s PC roots with mention of non-existent cursors, or leave you swapping between nonsensical ‘front’ and ‘back’ weapons.

The mechanically significant kanji that pop up to let you know when you’re successfully performing a Break, Flash, or other special attack aren’t translated at all, putting up an avoidable barrier between English readers and the game they’re trying to play. And far too many actions are tied to the right shoulder button, meaning you’ll often find yourself switching to another weapon when you were just trying to pick something up, or uselessly re-reading a stone tablet instead of collecting the bundle of materials nearby (and vulnerable to attack while you’re doing so).

Take your Switch on the go and you’ll soon spot those beautiful print-inspired vistas have been replaced by grainy atmosphere-spoiling versions of themselves, that look even worse whenever the screen gets busy thanks to some aggressively tuned dynamic resolution scaling. Is this automated solution better than having the game stutter to a halt whenever a boss unleashes a powerful spell? Definitely. But as stylish as the visuals are you never quite believe the graphical load on the hardware – especially when compared to other more impressive games on the system – is heavy enough to warrant such a harsh (if temporary) dip. Handheld mode compromises are inevitable with almost any game but in Undying Moon you’ll see new sights with your Switch in your hands and your first thought will be ‘I hope next time I get to see this docked’.

Power through these issues and you’ll encounter a brief sliver of promise in Getsu Renge, an intimidating midboss who when defeated becomes a permanent ally. She’s a stereotypically faster and less resilient playable alternative to the main hero, which could have formed the basis of an extreme challenge mode. Sadly she’s just weaker and faster, and you’re still expected to upgrade her (through her own upgrade menus) the exact same way you do Fuma — the Fuma you’ll have already spent many runs successfully augmenting into a reliable warrior. Renge exists, but you’re given no compelling reason to use her.

Conclusion

Many of the avoidable snags found in GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon were solved by genre predecessors long before this game was announced. There is no doubt that in a few patches time this could be a fantastic game — but that’s if Konami, which hasn’t been in many gamer’s good books for a long time, actually grants the development team the time and the funding to work on it. As it stands the game could end up being something special, the trouble is other similar Switch titles already are.



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