So many games focus on the heroes who visit shops along their journeys, but we never get to see who those shopkeepers are when they’re not behind the counter. In Moonlighter, which is out on Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC and coming out on the Nintendo Switch on Nov. 5, you play as Will, a store owner who might be more interesting than the protagonists he serves.
While half of the game focuses on managing an item shop, the other explores where all those items come from: dungeon crawling. To keep his shelves stocked in the morning, Will has to explore a series of rogue-lite dungeons night after night. Customers may be happy to score a deal on an ancient scroll, but they’ll never know that Will pulled it from the jaws of a massive boss monster.
When he’s not delving into crypts looting chests and killing creatures, Will spends plenty of time customizing the shop. To make enough cash to spend on the local weaponsmith and potions master, he’ll need to run a profitable business. While the dungeon-crawling is a straightforward affair, the shop management aspect of the game is where things get complex — and exciting.
After returning from his first trip in a dungeon, Will likely has a bag of items to sell. The only issue is that the items don’t have any immediate value. As the shopkeeper, he has to set their price himself, and then gauge customers’ reactions when they enter your shop. Depending on what they make of the cost, the player has a good sense of whether they priced Will’s loot appropriately. There’s a lot of trial, error and speculation that goes into making sure the shop is offering up the best deals, but it’s a fun puzzle on its own.
Based on the equal weight it puts on both fighting and shopkeeping, Moonlighter’s feels like two games. Both of them are distinct enough to work separately and together, without either lacking because of the other. Do a good job adventuring, and Will can get tons of great loot. With a sackful of items, he can generate good revenue the next morning. He can take that cash and buy better adventuring gear that’ll let him explore the deeper areas of dungeons, where the most profitable loot lies, and so on.
While the ever-changing dungeons offer up their own surprises and scattered bits of lore, the most fun is in exploring how to run a profitable shop. It turns out that the unique intensity of the shop management sim gameplay is a great palette cleanser between dungeon dives.
Moonlighter’s genre mash-up works so surprisingly well that it might be my favorite game of the year — not just among management sims, but among dungeon crawlers, too.