Moonglow Bay – A cute, cosy and flawed game about Fish (but not necessarily always chips)

At least once a year, I manage to stumble upon a little indie darling courtesy of Microsoft’s Game Pass. I was kind of worried nothing would get their little claws into me despite my best efforts in 2021. Every time something new is added I always jump in and spend a few minutes seeing what they’re about. It’s not very often a game shows up that I know I’m going to be into right from the moment I put hands on it.

And Moonglow Bay is exactly that. It’s the debut game from an eight-person team called Bunnyhug and right from the beginning they make no bones about this being a slower-paced, more relaxing experience. Their own website describes it as a voxel-based, wholesome, slice-of-life fishing RPG. Which I’d say describes the game pretty well.

It’s a game that wants to be inclusive in every way it can, it begins with having you pick your character, your pronouns and your partners, then drops you off into the quaint little town of Moonglow Bay somewhere in eastern Canada. Once there you’re both set to begin the latter parts of your lives starting you own local fishing and restaurant business. Lovely sounding retirement plan.

Well, that is until the game suddenly cuts to three years later to find that your partner has vanished and you’re been living in a state of depression ever since. I mean, I don’t know why the game doesn’t just come out and say they’re dead, I mean that’s how it treats them throughout. I don’t know. It’s only when your daughter shows up, having quit her job and moved to Moonglow Bay, to get your out of your rut.

It’s at this point that you realise fear and superstition have taken over the town. Stopping them from doing pretty much anything except wonder around and spreading stories of the monstrous creatures that live off the bay. So it’s up to you to singlehandedly get out there and regentrify the town by catching fish and cooking them into delicious pixilated meals and using the profits to solve everyone’s problem. And that’s where the game starts in earnest.

For the vast majority of your time with the game, you’ll be doing one of two things. The first is taking your old boat out into the surprisingly diverse Canadian waters and catching fish, In the beginning, you’re pretty limited to simply pulling out fish one at a time with your trusty rod. The mechanics for catching the fish is pretty simple, it has to be for something you ending up doing over and over again.

You simply strike when there’s a bite and fight in the opposite direction as your quarry to prevent the line from snapping. Pulling out charmingly strange fish after bizarrely fantastical sea critter. Very few of the fish in this game are based on real animals, in fact, the game itself gives them strange names based on the tall tales given to you by the townsfolk. It’s only when you donate them to the museum that you figure out what they really are. Although that doesn’t make them any less weird.

As you progress deeper into the game’s story, you gain access to a wider variety of rods, baits and lures which are required to catch certain types of fish in each biome. This being in addition to net fishing, using lobster cages and a few other methods you get towards the end of the game. All which allow you to start reeling in sea life in greater bulk in order to partake in the second part of the game you will spend the most time doing.

…if I could list two things I really love in life; one would be the ocean and anything that lives in it. I’ve been obsessed with sea life and aquariums for as long as I can remember. The second of those things would be cooking, although that doesn’t necessarily imply that there is a connection in my mind behind those two things. In this game though, cooking all of the sea life you are catching and selling them to the populace allows you to earn the money needed to reinvest into the town and revitalise it back into the tourist beauty spot it once was just three short years ago.

The cooking mechanics in this game could very easily become monotonous. Maybe some people will find the sheer time that goes into completing the same mix & match selection of six mini games required to make any of the dishes on your menu a massive grind. But for some reason, the calming repetitiveness of the task works for me, almost like the process of real cooking in my mind.

Doing these two things in tandem and selling your creations in your gourmet seafood vending machine you earn the money needed to buy more equipment for your boat to explore deeper into the sea. As well as invest and repair certain parts of the town that end up unlocking extra little perks and stories to propel you through the game, as well as connect and grow to learn about the primarily elderly residents of Moonglow Bay, in an almost melancholic mixture of people reflecting on things they’ve lost as well as enjoying the lives they’ve had.

Moonglow Bay is a sweet, inclusive and chilled out experience. One that eats away the hours before you even know what happened to them. The main drive of the story itself, discovering these massive, almost mystical fish that all seem to live just off the coast of this little Canadian town ended up charming me more than I was expecting, giving the game a series of quasi-boss fights that act as the major milestones of progress through the game.

I ended up finishing Moonglow Bay and enjoyed my time with the game a lot.

However.

I can’t recommend the game on it’s charm and wholesomeness alone and bid you adieu, because while I got something out of it, the game is not without its problems. Which are, to be blunt, an utter infestation of bugs, glitches and examples of poor tutorialisation that really makes me wish this game had spent another couple of months in the oven and a lot more time with game testers. I know this was a small crew, but had this game not charmed me so utterly I might have been incredibly frustrated with it.

I mentioned before that the game let’s you pick your pronouns. Which is a fine, inclusive move that a lot of modern games should consider during the development stage. But in this case, it annoyed the hell out of me.

Now, now, calm down. Don’t jab me with your pitchforks.

The reason it bugged me was because I was constantly being reminded of this early game choice by the people of the town constantly using the incorrect pronouns for both my character and my dead partner. Which seems like a massive bummer in my eyes. If you’re going to promote inclusiveness in your game like this, constantly seeing mess up is a damning example of it going badly wrong. You end up doing the exact opposite thing that you actually set out to do in the first place.

I guess one side effect from this is that I now have some understanding of why people get so annoying about getting misgendered in real life now. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

There were numerous times where my boat would end up floating well above the water rather than in it, especially in the later stages of the game. Which wouldn’t be a problem in itself, but the default camera angle when you actually start fishing means that the elevated boat ends up covering the majority of the screen, blocking the float and bit of water where you plan on fighting the fish. This same problem happens when you get up north and find yourself fishing between tall glacial walls. The fixed camera putting you inside the walls and giving you zero visibility.

These problems are by no means game-breaking, but it does force you to find “sweet spots” where you can fish and actually see what you’re doing, which is frustrating. And the game is filled with little bugs like this throughout, When using the net to catch bait or fish shoals, the net very easily catches on piece of the environment, meaning you get stuck and have to give up on that batch half way through. The same goes for when you yourself are exploring the town and its surrounding areas. Getting caught on geometry is incredibly easy, and some close parts to you home end up forcing you to take very winding paths to get back to where it was you started.

Another issue the game has is with quest tracking. While the game has a journal to track all of your quests, it does a poor job of letting you know which of them you can and can’t progress given your current stage of the game. Which very easily makes the player assume the quest could be broken. Which is an easy assumption to make considering I ended the game with two sub quests in my journal still that hadn’t cleared themselves after I had finished them.

A problem that compounded itself at the point where I found myself sequence breaking the game and finding my way into a boss room I wasn’t supposed to be in at that part in the story. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m this expert speed runner who finds way to break games. On the contrary I prefer to play a game the way the creator intended, because I feel like it’ll give me the best, most satisfying narrative experience.

But the poor quest tracking, coupled with the extreme ease of me finding a way around a locked door make me genuinely think the game was broken. It wasn’t until someone specifically told me the code to the door, which I had also looked up online prior to this trying to figure out why I was stuck, that the boss sequence was activated and I could progress.

It could be really frustrating. And it felt like so many other people online were in the same boat. With this being a tiny indie game, there wasn’t a whole lot of online discussion for it, so finding help online for my problems was less than fruitful. However, I was seeing a lot of people complaining about the same kinds of problems I was having too. Most of which could be answered with a blanket: “The game’s not broken, just do other things and that quest will eventually open itself up,” A message the game itself could badly do with telling you as well.

One final complaint, now that feels a bit less of a criticism of the devs and more of just pace. You have three pages of meals you can cook with all the fish you catch. After you cook a meal so many times, you unlock a level of mastery, represented by a star, up to three. Unlocking these stars is majorly how you unlock the more lucrative and complicated means for your menu. But the thing is, by the time I had finished the game, I had hardly started to scratch the third and final page of the menu. But by this time I already had more money than I knew what to do with and had literally ran out of things to to spend it on.

It’s a shame, because after finishing the game I would have happily continued to invest time into it, complete my Pokedex and unlock all of the items on my menu. But there was no point, because there was no reason to do so. As much as I had enjoyed my time with the game, it felt like they developers had majorly mis-predicted the rate at which players would amass and spend money, as well as how many creations it would take to unlock the later stage meals.

It’s just one more example, in my mind, of why this game needed some more time in the oven and more hands on it testing.

Woah… okay.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten all that of my chest. I would still recommend Moonglow Bay. I mean, yeah; it’s a buggy mess at times. But the developers are working on it. Shortly after it was released they put out a patch that stopped a bad framerate bug happening while you were in town. So maybe this game will be a much better experience in the future, if they keep supporting it. But at its core, the pure gameplay loop of fishing, cooking, rinse and repeat really worked for me.

I was desperately in need of a casual, more laid back game to switch my brain off for between long night shifts in real life. And this fit the bill perfectly. As opposed to the game itself, which is far from perfect in so many ways. But it managed to hit me just right and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game much more than I found myself frustrated by it.

So if you’ve got Game Pass, I would really recommend trying it out. As it it right now, I’m not sure I would say it’s worth the £20 price tag on steam or Epic (which are the only other two platforms the game is out for), but if all the bugs get ironed out, then 100%. I really did enjoy this game, and as things stand I could very easily see it slipping into the bottom end of my top ten list for the year next month.

Also, the character I played looked like old man Arin Hanson. And that helped a bit too.

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