STAFF REVIEW of Moonglow Bay (Xbox One)

Saturday, November 13, 2021.
by Peggy Doyle

Moonglow Bay Box art Grief is a strange thing. It changes us, really makes us take time, and soothe ourselves in ways that don’t always make sense to others. You need that time, it may not be long time, but it also might take you an awfully long while to find yourself again. Not everyone processes grief in the same way. When you finally find a way to move on though, you can look back after a while and see how far you’ve come. Having lost a partner myself, I found myself drawn into this game right from the start, more than I had anticipated, and I really wanted to help my character move on.

Developed by Bunnyhug (who just may have the most adorable logo I’ve ever seen), Moonglow Bay is a game about loss, grief and PTSD, but it’s also about friends, fishing, cooking, family, resilience, rebuilding and growth. There was a lot packed into this charming adventure. You play as a fisher who loses their partner when they are lost at sea. Three years later you are still stuck in a pattern of grieving until your daughter comes to visit and encourages you to find a way to make things better, for you, the town and your partners memory.

Being from Nova Scotia, I was excited to play Moonglow Bay, as it takes place in a fishing town on the East Coast of Canada, and you even have an adorable Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever dog named Waffles. The game perfectly captures the feel of a small fishing town on the coast. Complete with neighbours who know just a little too much at times, and also love to spin a tale or two. You interact with the townsfolk to gather information about the diverse types on fish in the waters, as well as do quests to help them and revitalise the town. Moonglow Bay isn’t deep, but it’s writing keeps things moving forward. The main storyline is to explore and get to the bottom of your partners disappearance, but how you get there is the bigger story.

Fishing is the main activity in Moonglow Bay. You go fishing and either turn your catch into the aquarium, sell them whole or turn them into meals to sell in the vending machine outside of your home. Some of the dishes were reminiscent of home, like fish cakes or seafood chowder, and some were ripped right from other cultural menus and included things like sushi and tacos. Members of the community may also ask for a particular fish or recipes to be made as a quest.

You use the money you make to upgrade your boat, which was left in storage since your partner disappeared and is now yours, or renovate the towns buildings, parks, etc. It costs a lot of money to do the renovations and you will have to catch many fish to accomplish this task. Cooking is also a balancing act, as each recipe you learn will cost you money to prepare and sell for different amounts of cash, so it’s up to you to determine the best bang for your buck. Like cooking, there is also the balance of work/life activities. You are in a day/night cycle and must also sleep eventually. If you don’t sleep you become very sluggish, but you need to try to sleep when the town does or you end up crashing during the day when the businesses and community are awake. Businesses are not open late into the evenings nor are people generally outdoors.

Moonglow Bay is really relaxing, and the voxel art is perfect for this laid-back game. It’s a wonderful game to just chill and play, zone out until you catch the number of fish you need to get your next upgrade or repair. Overall, the mechanics weren’t complicated at all, but I would have liked them too not have been quite so simplistic either.

Moonglow Bay teaches you new skills as you move through the story, as most games do, but there were a few times where you were on a mission and figured out how to solve it purely by luck, also discovering you had a new skill at the same time. Early in the game you must find a legendary fish that has a harpoon stuck in his back. Before this point you were able to toss and reel in your fishing rod/line, or cast a net into the water, but in this case, you must cast your fishing line at the harpoon, snag it and pull the harpoon out. This was just one mission/puzzle that I found the solution to through pure luck.

Unfortunately, when I played there were a lot of small bugs. Sometimes missions didn’t start, items wouldn’t appear where they should, mission markers would take me to the wrong location or townspeople wouldn’t accept the item they asked me for. I also got stuck in trees and near rocks a few times and had to use a previous save. In a game that doesn’t have auto saves, this sometimes meant potentially many ‘in-game’ days of progress was lost. Since launch they have implemented a substantial patch that has almost all of these things addressed including implementing an auto save when you sleep thankfully.

Even though there were bugs, they didn’t break the game for me. As someone from the East Coast, we tend to let a lot of things slide, laugh them off and just shrug our shoulders, and I felt a lot of that when I encountered things like that in the game. There were even some small things that made me laugh aloud as they reminded me of a situation or someone I knew from back home. There was a lot of feeling that went into this game, they did their research and I adore that. One thing I really loved about Moonglow Bay was that when you were talking to people, the time stopped. The clock literally slowed down so you could focus on them and the tasks. Time also completely stopped when you were cooking in the kitchen. I deeply appreciate that as the kitchen is where EVERYTHING happens on the East coast, the heart of the home, and a reason our gatherings are called Kitchen Parties. My time in game was spent catching as many fish as I could in a day, sleeping, and then cooking up a storm in the morning. Pop the dishes into the vending machine and head out to sea again. Once I could upgrade my boat to include a bunk, I could stay out for days at a time.

The soundtrack for Moonglow Bay may be my favourite thing about the game; pure brilliance. The more I listen to the 41-track album, the more I hear. There was a lot of thought put into the music from composer Lena Raine. The music is so dynamic, as something as simple as the strumming of the guitar in the music while you are walking through town is slow in the morning but speeds up after the clock hits noon. Some buildings have different music as you pass them, and certain characters have their own music in their shops where they work. Abi, your best friend in the game, has a noticeably confident bassoon melody for example. The fish market has a few characters working there and the music almost sounds like people chatting to one another. Different biomes each have their own music as does your home. You have general chill music while there, but a more upbeat bossa nova when cooking. The biggest surprise to me about the music was the aquarium, each floor represents a biome and they each have different music. When the area is empty the music has very few instruments, but as you donate more fish and it fills up, so does the music. It becomes more rounded, fuller and with more instruments. The entire album is on Lena Raine’s YouTube channel, and I encourage you to have a listen if you want something lovely to relax with or accompany your work.

A quick note about accessibility, not from an abilities side, but from an acceptance and inclusion side. In the beginning of the game, you pick your character young or old, male, or female. Then they ask you your pronoun choice; he, she, or they. Once you pick you character and name, they ask you to pick your partner, all the same choices. This allows you to customize your relationship to something more meaningful to you. I even noticed that the rainbow used in the artwork for the game wasn’t a traditional seven colour rainbow, but the colours of the Pansexual pride flag (pink, yellow and blue). I didn’t find confirmation that this was intentional or a coincidence though. Having said that, one of the bugs I noticed, on more than one occasion, was the townsfolk not using the pronouns I had selected for my partner. Again, it didn’t break the game for me, but I can see it potentially being more noticeable or jarring to someone in a different circumstance.

Despite the few bugs and glitches I encountered, I found myself easily sinking hours at a time into Moonglow Bay. Its familiarity, the need to help someone going through the same grief I had experienced myself, the nostalgic voxel art and delightful music all really made me escape into this coastal community and really feel like I was part of all of it. It was clearly developed by a passionate team who took care to really make it feel this way. I think it may have benefitted from a bit longer development time, but they pushed out a patch quickly and I will take on another playthrough of it before too long. I loved the idea of helping to save a small town like I grew up in and I look forward to spending some more time chilling in Moonglow Bay soon.

*Moonglow Bay was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X*

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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