Moonstone: A Hard Days Knight was released in 1991 on Amiga and later PC. At the time it was released there was nothing else like it, but even today there’s been no other game that has managed to combine the RPG elements, action, multiplayer campaign modes and comedy violence in the same way. Moonstone is completely unique.
After a moody, well directed and (at the time) stunning intro movie, the game begins and the players are able to choose one of four different coloured Knights and even name their armoured avatar. Up to four players can join the game with each of the four Knights taking turns to move on an overworld map. Each of the differently coloured Knights starts in one of the four map areas: moors, wetlands, forest and wastelands. If less than flour players are present then black AI Knights join the game.
On the overworld map each player can move a set distance before play continues with the next player. If the player can move far enough, they can enter one of the marked map locations to enter a “dolmens”. These are like little dungeons you enter and upon reaching one the game changes from the overworld to a fighting game akin to Streets of Rage, albeit without the side scrolling and with more swords. Defeating the menagerie of monsters earns equipment and experience points to level your Knight and also allows you to collect the four pieces of the Mcguffin you need to face the final boss of the game. To spice proceedings up, A dragon sweeps the map periodically swooping down and engaging the player in a furiously difficult battle.
While the multiplayer campaign and the beat-em-up style combat combined with RPG overworld was a revolutionary combination, it was Moonstone’s startling violence that made it stand out. Inspired perhaps by the bloodier moment of Monty Python’s Holy Grail, the heroic Knights are splattered to paste by giants with tree trunks, skewered on the horns of lion-unicorns and squeezed till their heads pop off by…well whatever you call those big ugly things. The levels of brutal violence ( much of which you can see in this video) would raise eyebrows today, but back in a pre-Mortal Kombat world it was a revelation for teen boys who had to hide the game mischievously from their parents.
Unbelievable fun would be had throughout the game, especially with four human players on board. Debate would rage as to which player had the hardest starting area. Everyone would unite and cheer for the unlucky player who had to fight the fearsome dragon. If two players could reach each other on the map, they could fight and steal each others equipment and items. These battles would be unbelievably tense affairs, and whichever player won could crown their victory by chopping of their opponents head as they fell to their knees, defeated and humiliated.
The open ended nature of the game was the most interesting. The subtle balance of cooperation and competition could tip at any point. Enemies could group together to confront the evil bosses and black Knights, or stab their fellow Knights in the back and steal their best items. Regardless of which path the players chose, most of my memories of the game include me and my friends shouting at the screen in anger, disbelief or sheer elation. The difficulty of the game and its cruelty (some enemies could insta-kill you) meant you never felt safe and every moment you survived in the world of Moonstone was a good moment.
We never finished Moonstone. Our copy had a glitch which meant when we loaded the last enemy our game crashed. We kept hoping that one day it would load for us. Over and over we put in the hours of play needed to finish the campaign before once again being defeated by failing technology rather than fearsome enemies. In truth, we all knew that we would never finish the game and we probably never wanted to. As long as we had that far off goal to strive for, we would keep playing…and we would love every gore-soaked moment of it.