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Sunday, August 07, 2022
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Moonglow Bay sets sail despite rocky launch

Despite my vegetarianism and general disdain for fishing in real life, I’ve somehow always been in love with the feeling of reeling in a virtual fish in a game. Not in those rugged, story-absent games like Big Bass Fishing, but through classic cozier games in the vein of Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing or Minecraft. Naturally, then, I was thrilled when Bunnyhug Studios announced Moonglow Bay, a game that finally takes the fishing theme of older games and makes it palatable for people like me, who wouldn’t step within 6 feet of a fishing rod in real life. 

The goal of the game is to rejuvenate the aptly named town of Moonglow Bay, which has fallen into shambles after rumored fishing accidents — one of which took the life of the main character’s partner — have caused the town’s once vibrant fishing industry to crumble. To do this, the player controls the main character as they fish and cook to open a food stand. As the food stand grows, the player invests their money into the town, repairing dilapidated buildings and reviving severed connections with the townspeople. 

There’s a story and a definite end to the game, and there are even a few “boss fights” in the style of reeling in massive fish, though for me, the appeal of Moonglow Bay’s gameplay is less about the story and more about its open-endedness.

As expected from a fishing game, it absolutely nails the fishing mechanic. While I loved Stardew Valley’s take on fishing that requires a cursor to stay within a bar, Moonglow Bay’s fishing mechanic feels more authentic. Whether the player is on a fishing boat or standing on a pier, they simply cast a line and wait for a fish to bite. Once a fish bites, they press the key that corresponds to the opposite direction the fish is headed, pressing “D,” for example, if the fish is trying to escape to the left to bring it back in.

Different rods, baits, and locations have different outcomes as well, and there are over 100 fish to catch. Perhaps the best part of the game is its unique fish. After hearing townspeoples’ rumors of fantastical fish lurking in the waters of Moonglow Bay, I noticed that my in-game journal filled up with the rumored names of these fish. 

When I saw a fish a villager had referred to as “Fingerpaint Larry,” I was determined to find out what it looked like. Moonglow Bay is great at this — there’s always something to strive for that will draw your attention away from the main story, whether it’s hunting down a funny-sounding fish or gathering the materials to cook a new recipe. 

Cooking these fish — if you can bring yourself to fry up your adorable latest catch — is equally satisfying. Each step of the cooking process features a small task (timing a key press right to chop fish, for example), though this never grows repetitive thanks to the auto-cook feature that unlocks after cooking each dish a certain amount of times. I was also thrilled to begin filling up the museum — each fish donated here unlocks a journal entry with information about that fish. 

Speaking of journal entries, if you win townspeople over by cooking dishes for them, they’ll sign your journal. It’s definitely one of the game’s smaller touches, though it adds a lot to the town’s familial feeling set by the game’s cozy voxel art and the fishing journal’s vibrant drawings.

The whole game is set to charming music by soundtrack veteran Lena Raine. While admittedly a bit repetitively implemented into the game, Raine’s work for Moonglow Bay is gorgeous — even just the way a snappy little violin track kicks in while I’m reeling in a tiny fish on a beach does so much to liven up the town of Moonglow Bay. I haven’t yet made my way through the full game, but I'm looking forward to seeing how the soundtrack dynamically molds itself around the different scenarios the game presents as the story progresses.

Unfortunately, Moonglow Bay isn’t all as smooth as its soundtrack makes it seem. I was able to pick up a copy just ahead of launch, and to my surprise, it was a bit undercooked. Perhaps its biggest problem is its keyboard mapping — while players are given a thorough tutorial at the beginning of the game, the controls are still a bit unintuitive and can’t be remapped even after a patch was implemented to fix the controls. I imagine this issue is a bit better on Xbox, where the game also launched, although those players have also reported running into issues with controls.

Speaking of issues, there are … quite a few others. It’s clear that Moonglow Bay was designed with a very clear path for the player despite being an open-ended game, leading to some interesting dialogue moments. Before the main character had even opened a food business, for example, I interacted with one NPC and found them chatting away about how they should visit the business as if it was already open. Later on, my character thanked a shop owner I hadn’t even met for selling me a vending machine upgrade I hadn’t purchased. It definitely broke my immersion a bit, as did things like instantly teleporting onto the ship for an impromptu lobster trap tutorial when all I wanted to do was purchase a trap for later. 

Moonglow Bay is unfortunately saturated with so many little moments like this. I’ll be fishing only to have my day ruined (okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic) by a misplaced apostrophe or an NPC that disappears the second I collide with them. It’s honestly frustrating — Moonglow Bay just has so much potential to be the next popular cozy game, but its glitches and shortcomings prevent it from being a fully enjoyable experience. Keep in mind, this was all after the game was delayed a few weeks to give the team time to patch glitches.

However, Moonglow Bay’s developers have assured players that these glitches will be fixed and have already begun rolling out patches to address these issues. It looks like Moonglow Bay’s future rests on its patches. While enduring a painfully glitchy launch, as long as these glitches are fixed, it looks like Bunnyhug Games might have reeled in a cozy gaming mainstay with Moonglow Bay

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Final Grade: B

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