Alone it lacks purpose, but hook up with three friends and the game starts to make sense. It's headache inducing, but a lot of fun.
"Strider. It's like Strider!" our excited co-op partner decided to scream with joy down his Bluetooth headset. His enthusiasm is uplifting. We're looking at screen with about thirty enemies upon it. Counters flash as the numbers dwindle. We sit staring open-eyed at the screen, pounding the Square button and desperately trying to keep track of our character model. Turns out we're looking at Player 2 rather than our own character, but it doesn't really matter — this is mental.
Turns out Moon Diver closely resembles Strider because it kinda is. Spiritually at least. The timed PSN exclusive has been designed by Koichi Yotsui — a lead on the original Capcom published arcade game. Naturally with Square Enix on publishing duties, the similarities only run as far as the gameplay, but if you're old enough to remember Capcom's arcade hack-and-slash title, you'll be right at home here.
The game kicks off with a cut-scene depicting the dystopian universe of the game's setting. It's the future and everything's gone bad. There's this dude that wears tons of make-up and is a bit of a dick-wad, and you're tasked with fighting back and saving the world. The plot is absolute garbage, and it's told in that kind of melodramatic gobbledygook that Japanese games are famous for. "I arose from the ocean, awaiting my opportunity to return to the New World." You get the idea.
But the plot doesn't matter one squat, because Moon Diver is all about hitting that Square button as fast as you possibly can. In single-player it suffers from difficulty spikes and repetition, but take the action online and it's an absolute blast. The action runs smooth across a polygonal two-dimensional plane, and your character — of which there are several to choose from — moves with the kind of acrobatic fluidity that makes you feel like an utter bad-ass. The controls get a bit twitchy when the game occasionally decides to be a platformer, but you move through the levels so fast that it's not a game-breaker. The Square button is used to attack enemies, and for such a standard attack it's pretty deadly. You can literally run through lines of enemies hitting Square and watch your points soar. It sounds boring, and it kinda is when you play alone, but online it has that overpowered attraction that makes everyone participating feel like a God.
Being a Square Enix published title, Moon Diver is packed to the rafters with metres and acronyms ending in "P". It's not particularly complicated, more unnecessarily convoluted, but — hey, that's Square Enix. As you progress through the game you'll grab gold orbs which grant you new magic powers. You can allot four magic powers to your character, opening up the opportunity for some co-operative strategy. It's not really necessary, but it's helpful to have a medic, tank, etc, amongst your team. There are lots of magic attacks to choose from, and they definitely add variety to the gameplay, even if the crux of the action is tapping that Square button. If all members of the team press a button during a certain window, some magic powers will be emphasised across the squad, which again brings some strategy to the action.
Of course, all of this is lost in single-player where you're left mashing buttons for the hell of it. The game's still fun alone, but it quickly loses some of its chaotic shine. Moon Diver's definitely best played with friends, either locally or online. The netcode's great, and it's really easy to get a match started even if you've not got any friends playing. Similarly to games like Street Fighter IV and Final Fight, you can start a single-player game alone, and allow the game to match you up with co-op partners as you play. We had a full room of players before we'd finished off a single stage, and those guys stuck around to play with us for a good hour or so. Obviously your experience will vary, but the game does a great job constantly refilling empty positions.
Unfortunately, the game doesn't do a great job of making it clear who is who. We can't stress enough just how hectic Moon Diver is, and with only a few characters on offer, we found ourselves part of a lobby all playing as the same character. Four red character models does get pretty confusing when the screen is flashing at a hectic frame-rate.
Thankfully the game keeps up well — even online. We noticed a couple of instances of tearing and frame-drops, but absolutely nothing that pulled us out of the experience. It has to perform well to be honest, because that's the game's biggest visual draw. The graphics are pretty awful throughout Moon Diver's campaign, and a lack of artistic variety doesn't really help. The visuals do their job, but we'd have preferred a much more stylised look in-line with the game's concept art, rather than the muddy polygonal graphics on offer.
But Moon Diver isn't a game about looks. It isn't even a game about gameplay. It's a one-trick pony, and a great one at that. It's a mindless action game that's fine when played alone, but comes to life in multiplayer. Providing the game can maintain a stable community — and some outrageous trophies should ensure that — it's a success against the sum of its parts. Moon Diver is repetitive, nonsensical and mindless, but a bit brilliant all the same.