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What To Play: Role-Playing Mayhem in ‘Moonstone: A Hard Days Night’ (1991)

Excellent action, turn-based game is one to find and play.

Moonstone: A Hard Days Night is a 1991 action role-playing game about knights, druids and a mystery surrounding Stonehenge.

Back in the early 90’s, chances are that if you were a gamer you would want to have either a SNES or a Mega Drive (or Genesis if you were in the states), two consoles that, even now, are still fondly-remembered and revisited by retro gamers. At the same time, there were many gamers like myself whose parents weren’t too thrilled about buying their kids a game console, seeing zero educational value, and instead opted for the Amiga believing that it would be used for school work. Of course anyone I know whose parents went the Amiga route never used it for school work anyway and instead enjoyed the surprisingly huge amount of fantastic games that it supported. Unquestionably one of its standout titles, and one that made the console gamers envious, was Moonstone: A Hard Days Night.

Moonstone: A Hard Days Night
Moonstone: A Hard Days Night, 1991 © Mindscape

Playing as one of four colour-coded knights, your mission is to return the mystical moonstone to the druids of Stonehenge, a quest that sees you visiting tombs scattered across the world map to find the four keys that will grant you access to the Valley of the Gods were the Moonstone is being held by the Guardian. Of course, along the way you will have to battle various monsters, rival knights and a dragon all determined to hamper your quest as it seems that everything in this land is determined to kill you.

Blending multiple genres, this could in many ways be seen as one of the earliest examples of sandbox game as you can basically go anywhere you want on the map, visiting the various tombs in whichever order you want. Of course if that doesn’t grab you, you could always head to one of the towns to buy new equipment or gamble in the local tavern, visit Math the Wizard for help (and hopefully not get turned into a frog) or you could also just annoy your friends by challenging them to duels. The choice of how you approach the quest is really down to you.

Moonstone: A Hard Days Night
Moonstone: A Hard Days Night, 1991 © Mindscape

At its heart, this is a turn-based game with real-time combat elements with each turn usually consisting of the player moving to a location on the map, and depending on the location, engage in a combat sequence with one of the various enemies that inhabit these lands. Its simple style of gameplay makes it easy to pick up while also maximising the action of the game as most turns end with the player battling a monster or creature. With four knights to choose from, the game also gives you the choice to quest alongside three of your friends, the game even allowing you to change the name of your knight which honestly back in those more simple times for gamers was pretty mind-blowing. Any knights not picked become black knights who basically just spend the game stalking your knights and generally being a pain in the ass.

Moonstone: A Hard Days Night
Moonstone: A Hard Days Night, 1991 © Mindscape

The map is divided into four distinctive territories, broken up into swamps, forest, mountains and plains with each area coming with their own distinctive foes to battle, be it the ogre-like balrogs of the mountains, the wolves of the forest or just the jump scare swamp monsters who are just as daunting to face now as they were back then, especially when they appear with a screech of a midi organ. Defeat the monsters inhabiting an area of the map and you’re rewarded with gold, equipment and if you’re lucky one of the four keys you’re looking for.

While the controls might feel by today’s standards more clunky than they should, the attack wheel open to players is actually quite advanced for the time, with a wide variety of strikes available, no doubt inspired by Barbarian only thankfully giving us gameplay deeper than two identical warriors battling each other over and over again. The combat elements meanwhile are only further complemented by the satisfying sound design as swords clang, enemies cry out in pain as well as dying satisfying squelchy deaths, which work perfectly against the already cartoonish violence.

Moonstone: A Hard Days Night
Moonstone: A Hard Days Night, 1991 © Mindscape

One of the biggest draws of the game though is unquestionably just how violent it is and even by today’s gaming standards still remains an extremely bloody experience as bodies of your fallen foes litter the battle screen. At the same time, using different strikes would also produce different deaths. For example, beating an opponent using broad sword strokes would see your foe being cut in half, while using forward thrusts would cause your fallen foe to collapse on the ground while a fountain of blood gushes out of them. Needless to say, all of this was much to the enjoyment of young gamers up and down the land, especially as this was a time well before video games started being subjected to censorship ratings. Of course while there was certainly plenty of ways to dispatch your foes, there was equally plenty of horrible ways to meet your demise from impalement, beheading, crushed or just eaten. It’s safe to say that being a knight in these lands is far from the safest occupation. Either way, death really is a lot of fun in this game and it finds new and ever more inventive ways for someone to meet their demise in much the same way we would rejoice over the violence of Mortal Kombat memorably brought to video games only one year later. And much like Mortal Kombat, the violence of Moonstone is not about realism but about creating Monty Python-style violence that’s fun and generally laugh-out-loud amusing to watch.

Unquestionably, one of the key titles for the Amiga, it’s still one worth discovering though due to being banned in some countries it has resulted in copies of the game being quite hard to come by with a complete boxed copy of the game being well known as one of the more expensive games to purchase (darn traders). But when you do get your hands on a copy you will know that it will have been all the hassle.

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