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Rusted Moss Review: We're Hooked

EDITORS' RATING : 8 / 10
Pros
  • Beautiful world
  • Excellent platforming
  • Engaging boss battles
Cons
  • All the classic metroidvania shortcomings
  • Some iffy lines of dialogue

Metroidvania games have been around for decades, and they can be a bit formulaic. Explore a massive two-dimensional map, fight a few bosses, and find new gear that opens up opportunities for backtracking and unlocking new rooms. "Rusted Moss" doesn't break from the genre's history or introduce any truly groundbreaking new mechanics — but when the game is this fun, it really doesn't need to.

After blasting through scores of enemies and solving a couple of platforming puzzles, Fern finds herself in a small room with three floating platforms. As soon as she jumps on the first chunk of stable ground, a creature called Pestilence which looks like a nightmarish mechanical snake appears and starts filling the screen with laser beams and bullets. The fight intensifies, and Fern swaps out her trusty rifle for a pistol that can be charged to shoot a spinning red wheel that deals continuous damage. Pestilence's first health bar melts, but then, the monstrosity revives and begins spitting out toxic ichor as it charges across the map. Luckily, Fern has a grappling hook that can help her avoid the worst of the creature's attacks. The fight is not easily won, though.

If its incredible boss battles were all that "Rusted Moss" had to offer, the game would be a worthwhile excursion for anyone who enjoys difficult two-dimensional battles. However, there is so much more on offer here. "Rusted Moss" combines all the best elements of the Metroidvania genre into an experience that's all but guaranteed to delight anyone looking to explore a detailed world filled with multiple challenges, plentiful magic, and hails of gunfire.

A world of magic and machines

A PC review code was provided to Zaaz for this review. "Rusted Moss" is available now for PC via Steam.

In the world of "Rusted Moss," players take control of Fern, a girl with fairy ancestry who was raised by humans and is now taking her friendly shadow, Puck, on a journey to end the Age of Man. For years, humanity used fae magic to power their incredible machines. Now, the fae have returned in full force, and fighting between the two groups has decimated both sides of the conflict. Fern's loyalties are tested throughout the game, and her decisions can lead to a variety of endings.

The story of "Rusted Moss" is always intriguing, and some of the characters are genuinely endearing. At times, the dialogue can be a little on the nose, and the plot telegraphs some of its biggest surprises. Still, uncovering the secrets of Fern's backstory, the history of the human/fae conflict, and the ultimate fate of the world is a great hook for a game that could have gotten away with much less.

Some of the game's best storytelling comes from the world itself. Fern explores a mixture of underground scientific labs and outdoor locations that all look gorgeous. The fae she meets are alternately beautiful and unnerving in their lack of humanity. On the other side of things, the magical-mechanical creations built by the humans can look downright disturbing. Overall, the game's art direction is superb, and it's supported by a soundtrack that stays fresh and engaging even after hours of play.

Puzzles, platforming, and more

There's always something new to do as Fern makes her way through the world of "Rusted Moss." In classic Metroidvania fashion, her exploration leads to frequent dead ends that can only be passed after Fern unlocks some new weaponry or other upgrades. While the game has all the backtracking you'd expect from the genre, it excels at never locking players into a single path forward. Run into a boss that's just a little too hard right now? There are other rooms with potential upgrades to find. Can't get past a "dangerous climb" section? Wander down a different path, and you might run into a time trial, or some other platforming puzzle to distract you until you go back for another pass at a particularly difficult challenge.

There's never a need to bash your head into a particular task for hours on end just to get to the next chunk of map to explore. Some players might end up doing that anyway, though, because the obstacles in Fern's path are so fun to tackle. "Just one more try" might as well be the game's mantra.

The platforming puzzles in "Rusted Moss" are particularly exciting. Thanks to Fern's physics-based grappling hook, many of the platforming segments require a combination of careful timing and precision aim with your mouse. Swinging between lethal spikes at a breakneck pace is exhilarating, and every time Fern careens into a deadly wall, the fault can be traced back to a misplaced grapple or a mistimed release.

Many of the puzzles will let you attempt them at your own pace, but every once in a while, a fae friend will stop by with a time trial. These segments combine intricate platforming with dangerous enemies and force players to simultaneously find the best route through a room while deciding if there's time to spare to shoot down the creatures who are filling the screen with bullets.

Bring on the gunfire

Platforming is a core mechanic in "Rusted Moss," but combat is equally as important, and more often than not the two go hand in hand. Fern starts the game with a rifle that can be charged up to lob a powerful shot at enemies. As she journeys through the world, she unlocks a plethora of new weapons that each come with their own charged special attack. She also uncovers dozens of trinkets that can be equipped to boost healing, add new forms of damage output, or even augment the behavior of certain elements in the world around her.

Trinket loadouts are decided at the save points sprinkled throughout the world, but Fern's weapons can be swapped out on the fly. While exploring the world, there are countless opportunities for experimentation. Rooms are filled with mechanical enemies, but if things aren't going well, Fern can always maneuver herself out of danger and onto the next screen. The real combat challenges come in the game's many boss battles.

"Rusted Moss" pulls no punches, and its bosses are tough from the get-go. Whether it's flying streams of blades that need to be deftly dodged, floors flooded with poison, or scattered mechanical hearts that need to be destroyed, every boss comes with its own set of mechanics. All of them will push the limits of your ability to manage Fern's skills, trinkets, and grappling hook accuracy. Expect to take on a single boss over and over again, but also be prepared for that sweet dopamine hit when you finally crush your foe.

An easy recommend

"Rusted Moss" is a definitive success. Between snappy controls and fantastic world design, the game gets all its core elements right. Sure, the story might not be winning any prizes, but it serves as an intriguing enough vehicle for getting into all the shooting, swinging, and jumping a gamer's heart could desire.

By now, most people probably know if they enjoy Metroidvania games. If difficult skill checks and frequent, mandatory backtracking have left you tired in the past, then steer clear of "Rusted Moss." But if you've been battling through 2D castles and alien worlds for years and have found yourself yearning for a new adventure set in a gorgeous world with a wide variety of puzzles, platforming, and combat to continually challenge your skills, then this is the game for you.

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