There are no shortage of 16-bit throwbacks on the PS Store, but some stand head and shoulders above the rest. The forgettably named Vengeful Guardian: Moonrider is one such release: a white-knuckle mix of Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master on SEGA Genesis and Mega Man X on the Super Nintendo, complete with a Mode 7-inspired motorcycle chase sequence and an H.R. Giger-infused cyberpunk pixel art aesthetic – this is essential for retro enthusiasts.
A politically charged storyline involving a totalitarian state backdrops the throwback action, but all you really need to know is that you’re a man-made samurai-wielding super soldier who’s rejected your true purpose and launching an offensive on your creators. This sets the stage for several varied levels, each with their own unique flavour, foes, and boss fights. You can clear the campaign within a few hours, but there’s replay value in finding all of the secrets and achieving a high score.
As you’d expect of the era the title’s inspired by, the gameplay is punishing – but not frustratingly so. Developer JoyMasher has smartly installed checkpoints to minimise repetition, and you’ll begin to understand combat patterns quite quickly, giving you a gratifying advantage over your foes. The controls are tight, allowing you to settle into a flow of platforming and combat, which is gratuitous and violent in the best possible way. (Some enemies will literally slide apart as you rip your sword through their torso.)
As you discover secrets, you’ll unlock augments which can complement your playstyle. In some instances, these can be used to make the gameplay more manageable – like increasing your armour at the expense of your score being capped – while others point out collectibles. Much like in the aforementioned Mega Man, you can tackle the levels in any order, and you’ll unlock new special weapons with each boss you defeat, adding an element of strategy to how you approach the campaign.
Each level feels unique, and goes through phases that ensure the gameplay remains interesting and engaging. And it’s all complemented by a jaw-dropping art style, which can feel a little grungy on occasion, but has some true standout set-piece moments – like the boss enemies that fill the entire screen. A CRT toggle is available for true retro enthusiasts, but we preferred to play with unfiltered, razor-sharp 4K pixels. And we loved every minute.