I have not played a Strider game, ever. The only time I've heard of the ninja, Strider Hiryuu, was through Marvel vs. Capcom. While I won't speak for the fans of the series, I will still judge Moon Diver by its own merits and determine whether or not this is the new "Strider" game that people should come to expect.
Moon Diver is an hack-and-slash, side-scrolling, beat-em-up game developed by feelplus, who, by their own merits, developed Mindjack, which was acclaimed as one of the most abysmally designed games of 2010. Koichi Yotsui, the director of Strider, returns from his hiatus to direct Moon Diver. While this game presents itself with a "challenging, yet rewarding experience" facade, there are questionable gameplay flaws and a lack of structure that keep it from being exceptional.
Moon Diver offers little except for a short opening. Judging from the Main Menu's interface, my first impression was whether or not this is an indie game. feelplus could've done something to give the menu more "color." The menu presents a single-player campaign and an online multiplayer mode, along with leaderboards. One thing I have to mention about the interface is how the game wants you to go back to previous menus. While playing the single player campaign, if you want to go back, you are instantly taken back to the main menu.
The only plausible way to describe Moon Diver's story is "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." The story is so lackluster that it's non-existent. The opening speaks for itself; the premise given to the players is that the "Demon King," Faust, is hellbent on destroying the world. And guess what? The game doesn't show you why. One stage after another, you will see short cutscenes that have little dialogue, no structure, and no exposition. The motivation behind Faust's attack isn't even explained well. I sometimes feel as if my intelligence has been insulted. I have played Sega Genesis games with better stories than this. Considering feelplus invented a story as terrible as Mindjack's, I expected no less. If you want to play Moon Diver, ignore the story completely.
In the single-player and multiplayer campaigns, four players can choose any of four ninjas: The Swedish Seyfert, the femme fatale Hitori, the "androgynite" Tolby, and the "thrashballer" Orion. Each of these characters have their own strengths and weakness, all of which are pretty balanced. For example, Hitori has more slashes than the rest while Orion has the fewest, yet he compensates for his intense strength. Moon Diver contains RPG elements that allow you to develop each character as you level them up; using CP to develop HP, MP, and Strength. You can use these CP however you wish, but each character develops in a unique fashion. Orion's strength can increase more than the rest of the characters, but his MP development is less than theirs. Tolby develops evenly, which means his stats will always increase by the same number.
Control-wise, the characters are pretty fluid in acrobatics. They can double jump, slide in the air, and even scale walls. You also have an arsenal of "Moonsault Combos," which are more effective when used cooperatively. Some MC's are more useful than others; one allows you to ram enemies and do continuous damage.
Moon Diver consists of twelve stages. The basic objective is to reach the end of each level while mopping hundreds of enemies. Few of these stages contain a boss fight in the end, which, for me, are very interesting and they remind me of other intense boss fights from the Megaman X and Zero games. Every stage has you killing dozens and dozens of enemies. You will often see more than thirty enemies on screen. Moon Diver doesn't present a huge variety of these enemies. They're usually just color palettes. From aliens, giant hornets, to undead corpses.
Even with so many enemies on screen, few of them will have the incentive to attack you. There is a reason though: all of these enemies hit hard. Seriously. Other enemies can damage you when you come in contact with them. This gives Moon DIver a huge difficulty curve for players. Adding even more insanity is the inclusion of turrets and laser beams, which have infinite range and can kill you in 2-3 hits. I have spent many hours grinding Tolby on Stage 5, which contains a horde of over one-hundred fifty hornets. For every level I've gained, I increased his strength until I can kill these hornets in a single hit.
Speaking of hits, one of this game's questionable flaws is the hit detection of your attacks. Slashing isn't really "slashing." Your attacks only detect the closest enemy. The only way you can hit multiple enemies at once is by doing a charge attack, which can be interrupted by any enemy contact. I find this mechanic to be very lazy and unnecessary, as it hampers the aesthetic that Moon Diver intends to give the players.
Overall, the pros and cons of Moon Diver vary on how addicted you are to challenging games. Psychologically, the difficulty curve is what encourages players to play this game with more people. I eventually ignored the ridiculous amount of laser beams and had fun playing with other people.
Aside from the fine looking special effects, character models, and boss designs, the stages are pretty bland and uninteresting. Even for a planet being destroyed, the backgrounds should at least compliment the style of the aforementioned designs.
The soundtrack is chalk-filled with awesome techno and rock compositions. They truly compliment the retro, side-scrolling action that Moon Diver delivers. However, like the backgrounds and enemies, even the soundtrack lacks variety and it repetitiously plays over and over again in stages. There's also no voice acting other than the characters' attack grunts.
You can play the same campaign on Moon Diver's online multiplayer and the level of your characters are carried over to this mode. There aren't too many lag issues to hamper the flow, but you'll notice some connection spikes before a player leaves the lobby. You also can't leave the lobby before or after you run a stage. You have to leave mid-game.
Moon Diver as a whole is flawed in terms of gameplay and its presentation is bare bones; dust even. However, this game still excels at being a fast-paced, challenging, and rewarding experience for a group of gamers who like cooperative gameplay, as well as fans of retro actions games. This may be one of feelplus' better games, but I doubt this is the kind of spiritual successor to the Strider series that its fans should expect. Koichi Yotsui should probably leave his projects to a more experienced developing company. I suggest that you play the demo before you can decide to buy and enjoy Moon Diver.