Appearances are one thing, first impressions can be telling, though it’d be a mistake to think of Thunder Moon (80 MSP) as ‘just another Minecraft’ on the indie channel. It pushes substance over style (three modes, first / third-person views, excellent soundtrack, robots and aliens, spaceships, modifiable weaponry… all with personal style to spare) and takes a unique approach to an over-served market, more than enough to justify its space on the crafting shelf alongside others.
While Thunder Moon recreates the blocky environs we’ve all come to know and love and buy in myriad forms, the android protagonist, enemies, and all of the objects / vehicles you’ll come across in-game are artfully modeled and textured. This makes for a good mix of contrasting styles, and injects some realism into the ‘marooned on an alien planet, now survive’ motif that XenoMiner did previously. Though where XenoMiner lacked a more involving plot and storyline, Thunder Moon improves and expands upon its adventure, offering dialogue and a story told in chapters, with constant objective markers and missions being handed out.
Crafting and gathering supplies for crafting naturally will take up a majority of your time, and the game tries to streamline the process, letting you know exactly how much of each component you have, and how much you’ll need, with color-coded backgrounds to sort works-in-progress from future projects, or just to separate by type. It’s efficient, and for the most part, easy to follow. Mining will be familiar to anyone that’s ever wielded a pickaxe (though it’s all ray guns here), and it helps that the game is frequently gorgeous when underground; launching a flare through the foggy depths, seeing various mineral treasures flash in the brief light… it’s a thing of beauty.
Thunder Moon has some problems, though, both visually and under the hood. All of the pretty views and effects come at a cost— some serious environmental popup and loading whenever you get too far ahead of the spawning terrain. I noticed it mostly when airborne (you’ll have a hoverbike at your disposal, and later, your spaceship), though it happened even when traversing the surface and caves on foot. Throw in one crashed game (luckily at the beginning, so I didn’t lose much progress) and two corrupted save files (always save and quit, never exit or go to the dashboard mid-game, regardless if you made progress or not), and you’ve got some legitimate performance concerns.
Ditto for the combat, which is initially fun and challenging, but quickly becomes a burden in Story mode. The mining and exploration aspects suffer, because you’re under near-constant attack. Even in the pits of the dankest cave, after you’ve dropped hundreds of feet and survived an otherwise deadly fall thanks to your jetpack, the spider and flyer Draxan variants (the enemy menace) still manage to find and hound you within seconds. It’s ridiculous, really, and negates the thrill of happening onto a deep-moon mineral excavation, simply because you know you won’t be able to mine in peace. Auto-turrets and the ability to slow down attacks (‘bullet time’) help, though not enough to offset. I want to mine in relative peace, you see. Please, let me mine in peace.
Thunder Moon is a game with a lot of promise, impressive in its scope, but it also demands a good share of patience …and forgiveness. There’s plenty to like about it, and plenty to see, but you’ll have to be willing to accept its current faults. If you can, you will find another interesting alternative to Minecraft that pays homage to what came before, yet paves its own way. If you’re feeling short on sympathy, though, you’re better off waiting for an update to see if things improve.