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Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight belongs to the club of games designed to look and feel like console classics from the ’90s, and it makes a great first impression. It’s a charming 2D action-platformer with a Castlevania vibe; there’s a haunted town and castle, a sprawling map with secret passages hidden behind false walls, and a powerful curse that needs to be eradicated. The only aspect that betrays its retro stylings is the orchestrated soundtrack, though it suits the foreboding atmosphere wonderfully.

In many ways, Reverie Under the Moonlight’s also bears similarities to Dark Souls. Dodging attacks and pummelling an enemy at the right moment is often the key to success. Healing, when you fail to precisely time your moves, comes from an item that you replenish by ringing bells placed around the map, which also serve as checkpoints. And when you encounter NPCs that utter ambiguous lines alluding to a mysterious past or future event, building up your curiosity–and confusion–over the state of world and who, if any one person, is responsible for its blight.

For all of the familiar elements the game appears to ape, it never feels like a mere reflection of trends. It’s not the first Momodora game–it’s the fourth–and the action feels appropriately refined compared to previous entries. Your movements and attacks feel great in practice. The presentation, too, strikes a wonderful balance between simple and expressive, with great use of color and effective character sprites.

The main character, enemies, and bosses are no doubt cute, balancing out the otherwise dark tone, and the juxtaposition of darling and somber is refreshing when so many games opt for one or the other. But no matter how adorable an enemy looks, it almost always packs a punch. You will acquire new skills and increase your stats by scouring the map for items, but–save for a couple of encounters with oversized, slow bosses at the start–you rarely feel overpowered until late in the game.

Even then, however, you may find that you die on a regular basis. This is a product of Reverie Under the Moonlight’s overabundant spike pits.

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