It’s something that mobile gamers probably overlook more often than we should, but audio can add tremendously to the experience you get from a game. From the throaty growling threats of Sinistar to the playful jingle that plays when you die in Super Mario Bros. to the unsettling atmosphere of Bioshock, video games have always used sound to subtly manipulate the emotional state of the player. Unfortunately, the very nature of how and where most handheld games are played means a lot of us rarely hear the games that engage us so well. You’re going to have to trust me on one thing, though, and that’s that if you play Shoot The Moon (Free), you’re going to want to do it with the sound on.
The game consists entirely of what it says on the tin. You just shoot the moon, again and again, until you fail to shoot the moon, at which point, your game is over. The moon is a giant jerk. He moves around in fairly predictable patterns at increasing speeds, singing along to Grieg’s In The Hall of the Mountain King, only relenting for a second when you smack him upside the head with a rocket. You can tap anywhere on the bottom of the screen to fire a rocket, and the farther away the moon is when you hit him, the more points you’ll score. If you miss the moon, the game is over. Reaching certain point thresholds will grant you power-ups such as a heart that allows you to miss once, but for the most part, you have to make sure your aim is true.
This gets even trickier when the moon starts producing red satellites, which also move around the screen in their own patterns. Hitting one of them means you didn’t hit the moon, which means you take a hit and probably lose the game. The number of these the moon creates is based not on how many points you have, but on how many times you’ve hit him, so taking a lot of shorter shots will leave you with fewer points and more red satellites. Regardless of the distance of your shots, the longer you play, the more of these red devils will be produced by the moon, and taking those longer shots becomes a lot riskier. If you have the life points to spare, any miss will reduce the number of red satellites by one.
That’s basically the game. You have to judge where the moon will be and balance the risk of taking high-scoring long shots versus easier short-range shots that will not only give you fewer points, but also fill your screen with potential blockers. Really, the smart play is to shoot the moon and go for those long shots. More importantly, you have to keep that rascally moon from goading you, which isn’t easy to do when he won’t stop making stupid faces and singing. I feel like since humankind first laid eyes on the moon, we’ve dreamed of punching it in its stupid face and/or rabbit, depending on your culture. Well, now you can, but it just won’t die. That’s some powerful existential philosophy you’ve laid out here, silly moon-shooting game.
All silliness aside, this is basically a timing-based shoot-em-up carved down to its very core, an even more basic state than Space Invaders. It’s a lot of fun to compete for scores on, as the thread in our forum will attest to, and its simple nature and quick gameplay sessions make it great for those moments in the day when you’ve only got a few minutes to kill. It’s also pretty nice to settle in with it so that you can attempt to keep your cool and take the best shots, not the easiest or quickest ones. It’s a very approachable concept with a whole lot of personality and a surprising amount of nuance.
That personality is owed entirely to the game’s clever presentation. There’s not a ton going on here, but the developer wisely recognized for the game to work, the moon had to figure large. His constant singing and multiple facial expressions, combined with the excellent choice of music, really make you want to hit him. Meanwhile, in the background, all sorts of weird things start showing up as you move through the score rankings. The nature of the game means you have plenty of time to take in all the bizarre details, and I did find myself wanting to see what would show up next if I could only push my score a little bit higher.
Admittedly, there’s not a lot to Shoot The Moon beyond its core premise, and if you have no interest in score chasing, you won’t find much here beyond the brief gag of the moon being so obnoxious. Luckily, the game is free to download, with only a single $0.99 IAP to remove the ads that will occasionally pop up between rounds. If you’re the type of gamer who likes chasing scores, you should at least give it a try. At the very worst, you’ll get a laugh out of the moon, but if you take a few games to learn the scoring mechanisms, I think you’ll walk away with a lot more than that.