If you are a fan of both Metroidvania’s AND cows then you are in luck as we bring you a hands on with the Moo Lander demo. For those not in the know, Moo Lander is an upcoming platform title from developer The Sixth Hammer. It bills itself as a ‘unique blend of platforming, puzzle solving and resource management’. Oh, it is also about Ancient Mighty Cows. Intriguing right? Well, if you are interested there is a nice 25 minute demo available on Steam right now for you to try.
One of the great things about the demo is that it goes straight into the gameplay and leaves out some of the rather bonkers story, but if you are interested you can check out the full plot synopsis on the games website.
In terms of setting, you are on a mission to explore a planet to find the source of a mythical never ending supply of cosmic milk, the cornerstone of your fading civilisation. Weirdly, it turns out the intergalactic cows are a pretty good renewable fuel source. So off you toddle to track down these mystic beasts.
So let’s get it out the way, the scenario is ridiculous but Moo Lander knows this and plays heavily into it. The dialogue in the demo is between your pilot and their long suffering ship AI. The game is played for laughs but from the demo it is hard to get a sense of where the story or characters are going. Still, we’d suggest that the game has some solid voice acting and there is plenty of comic potential. This is quite a turn away from other games in the genre which rely heavily on gothic doom and end of the world settings. The game world is bright, colourful and airy. In its world view, it is closer to the Ori series than say, Metroid.
A crowded genre?
Which also brings up the elephant in the room when it comes to the type of game it is. The resurgence of the Metroidvania genre in recent years with titles like Ori and the Blind Forest, Axiom Verge, Guacamelee and of course, Hollow Knight have meant that you have a lot of genre titles to choose from. This means that players are more savvy and looking for games of this type to stand out. From playing the demo, we’d say that Moo Lander has more up its sleeve than the whimsical setting.
Firstly, this is not a platformer in the traditional sense. You control a flying spaceship in 2D platform levels which means you have full 360 movement. However, that also means there are dangers in all directions. You need to manoeuvre carefully and it took us some time to realise that the game wasn’t about flying around the screen as fast as possible, but considering where you needed to go and when. The dense screens have dangers on all sides and banging against something hostile will, of course, chip away at your health.
In fact, starting the demo, pretty much everything feels like it can hurt you. Kicking off, you can pretty much just move a bit but it quite quickly introduces different mechanics. You start with no weapons or ways of moving obstructions but these swiftly get brought to you as you progress. What quickly becomes apparent in the game is the importance of that resource management element.
Almost all your abilities are reliant on milk, which has its own gauge and most actions make use of it to varying degrees. Milk, like health, does not regenerate but has to be refuelled at points along the level. So for example, one ability is to create a directional shield of milk. This is necessary to get past some early enemies. Spam it though and your counter will go dry and you can’t proceed. This means you need to go back and refuel. Even things like the quick dash ability have to be managed.
What this means, and the demo does a really good job of demonstrating, is that this is not a thoughtless brawler or actioner. This is an interesting blend of platformer, puzzler and 2D combat where you have to think to proceed. We liked it.
Difficulty is an interesting point. The game boasts 3 difficulty settings and these affect resources and damage etc. Just in terms of general gameplay, we found it rather challenging but this is because the demo throws a LOT of mechanics at you very quickly. Whether the main game will stagger these or if it can maintain that momentum throughout the whole game remains to be seen. There were a few sections that we had to replay to get through because we kept messing it up. We put that down to the different solutions to obstacles that gave the player a lot of different options. Working out what you need to do to proceed through trial and error is baked in.
A lot to remember
By the end of the demo, you have two offensive choices that require a menu swap out (essentially a gun or ‘sword’). Plus a non-lethal bomb and different offensive types are more effective against different enemies. This is on top of several different practical options like the aforementioned shield and boost. So with enemies moving around in all directions, environmental collision challenges and a range of options, it can get a little overwhelming.
This is possibly where the demo falls down because of its length. We think that if paced correctly, the movement and various options will start to feel like second nature. Several play throughs convinced us of this. Still, if this demo represents the start of the game we could see it putting off some player with a very different movement pattern.
In terms of looks, the game is bright and colourful with the sort of 2D layered art. As stated, it is pretty bright and lush with some nice effects during combat and interaction. It felt like a brighter version of something like Vigil. The sound effects and voiceover is also up to a high standard and works well with the setting. There is a lot of character shown on screen, especially when it comes to the personality of the cows. Think some punk prog rock cows with attitude and you get the idea. Or maybe you don’t.
Performance was smooth playing on a mid-level gaming PC so most gamers shouldn’t have a problem with running it. The demo was well optimized, even when there was lots going on screen. There is also a 4 player coop option to play through and from our quick review it also played performed well. It certainly adds a bit of additional chaos having all of you zooming around the room.
Our final thoughts on going hands on with the Moo Lander Demo.
So overall, colour us intrigued. Games in this genre (or sub-genre) live or die in their gameplay loop and AND pacing. From what we have played so far, Moo Lander will give players a different gaming experience that might make its mark on the already crowded market.
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Rudy Manchego has been gaming since the days of the BBC Micro Computer and spreads himself thin with a love of retro, indie and mainstream gaming. He’s one half of the Jambags Comedy Gaming podcast and likes nothing better than kicking back with a nice pot of lapsang souchong, a good game and a background podcast on the intricacies of Spanish cheese making.