For plenty of folks, 2016 truly starts on February 8th; that whole ball-drop nonsense on December 31st signified nothing more than a pretty light show. In many cultures, today marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year, which depends on the phases of the Moon rather than the Earth’s rotation around the sun. But enough with the third grade science/anthropology lesson – we’re here to talk about video games.
To pay our respects to the one and only natural satellite orbiting around our planet, we’ve rounded up some of the many ways games have interpreted the Moon. Earth’s Moon, specifically; Majora’s Mask and Kerbal Space Program will have to cheer from the sidelines on this one. Instead of passively gazing up that big celestial body in the sky, boot up one of these classics and really get to know the Moon.
If you absolutely couldn’t stomach the optional Mako trips in the original Mass Effect, it’s likely that you missed out on one of the series’ most enchanting environmental moments. Commander Shepard’s war against the Reapers all takes place within our very own Milky Way Galaxy, and Earth still stands as the capital of humankind. To avoid getting our Moon confused with all the bazillion other moons one could visit in 2183, it was renamed Luna (after the Roman goddess of, well, take a guess). As you might expect, Luna is a big ol’ expanse of barren rock – but it’s worth visiting just to see the Earth looming brightly in the pitch black skybox. Don’t admire the view for too long, though, or a trio of rocket turrets controlled by a rogue Virtual Intelligence might blast you to pieces.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
In Wolfenstein: The New Order’s alternate history, the Third Reich won WW2 and somehow managed to establish a gigantic, Austin Powers-esque lunar base by the late 1950s. And if you’re going to hide nuclear decryption keys, as the Nazis are so often wont to do, you might as well stash them off-planet. But nothing stops B. J. Blazkowicz from the chance to eviscerate Nazi scum with laser beams, so he dons an Aryan disguise, boards a rocket, and wreaks absolute havoc on and around Mondbasis Eins (that’s Moonbase One, to you non-German speakers). Given the time period, the base itself has the same vibe as a ’60s airport, while the segments where you traverse the Moon’s canyon-covered, air-free surface on foot are appropriately silent (save for B. J.’s breathing).
Were it not for the Moon, Portal 2 would’ve just been a rehash of the original Portal. For all the scientific experiments that Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson performs on test subjects (and/or reluctant employees), he ended up slowly killing himself with Moon rock poisoning. A word to the wise, then: never buy $70 million worth of Moon rock, grind it up into dust to be used as the base of a portal-conducting gel, and accidentally breathe any of it into your precious, frail lungs. If you’ve finished Portal 2, then you know how a glimpse of an Apollo landing site on the Moon’s surface, however brief, makes for an unforgettable first-person moment.
Not to be confused with the stellar Sam Rockwell movie of the same name, Moon built off the concept of Metroid Prime Hunters, plunking fast-paced first-person shooting into your a portable by pushing the Nintendo DS hardware to its limits. It’s as much about atmosphere and paranormal intrigue as shooting hostile droids, as you venture into a strange hatch to explore a hidden lunar station in the year 2058. Most of the action and suspense takes place within the neon-lit rooms of the moonbase itself, but you do get to cruise around the wide-open surface blasting ‘bots in your trusty LOLA rover. If all that sounds appealing, I have some good news: the DS original was remade and greatly expanded in Moon: Chronicles for 3DS.
Duckburg is clearly an analogue for 20th century California, albeit populated by duck-people (including one exorbitantly wealthy Scotsman). So it stands to reason that Scrooge McDuck’s trip to the Moon follows the same path as Apollo 11. Only, those real-life astronauts didn’t have a mission to seek out the Green Cheese of Longevity, or possess any Oxy-chew, the blue taffy that lets you breathe in a vacuum (much obliged for the explanation, Remastered). DuckTales on NES envisions the surface of the Moon as a gravelly gray, while Remastered opts for an out-of-the-ordinary purple. In either case, you’d better watch out for all the red squid-looking aliens and jet-packing robots, while being sure to enjoy the harmonious bliss that is the legendary Moon Theme.
About 700 years from now, the surface of the Moon won’t be much of a mystery. It’s all about what’s inside the Moon – namely, a hotbed of Hive aliens building an underground fortress of catacombs and chambers with ridiculously high ceilings. It’s also the stomping ground of Crota, Son of Oryx, who acts as the catalyst (that is, his death at your hands) that sparks the events of The Taken King expansion. Destiny’s interpretation of the Moon is much craggier than most, which gives Guardians ample opportunity to launch off cliffs for sweet jumps on their Sparrows. As a Hunter, you can even attempt the seemingly impossible: jumping over the enormous Hellmouth chasm.
The Moon facilitates what may well be the single most ridiculous fight in all of Asura’s Wrath, CyberConnect 2’a absurd Buddhist-brawler-screaming-movie thing. As a game, it shouldn’t work – but it does precisely because of moments like when Asura, an angry demigod, fights mentor/demigod/paean to machismo Augus on the Moon. What starts as a barely intelligible conversation between the two in a hot tub drinking booze and spending time with masked women ends with the two of them punching each other repeatedly. They punch each other so hard that it looks like they’re going to destroy the entire Montes Archemedes. Then Augus stabs Asura with a sword real hard. The sword is also real long. To demonstrate how long and hard he has been stabbed, the sword travels all the way from the Moon’s surface to what appears to be Tibet. That’s a nearly 239,000 mile-long stabbing.
If the Souls series is obsessed with praising the sun, then Bloodborne stands in reverence of the moon. Spoilers ahead, but the entire game practically revolves around that big chunk of cheese in the night sky. The phases of the Moon – from a soft, comforting orange, to bright and white, and finally an ominous, crimson Blood Moon against a purple sky – are what denote your progress through Bloodborne’s single, nightmarish evening. Taking a leap of faith into the reflection of the Moon at Moonside Lake and crashing through to the other side for a sudden fight with Rom, the Vacuous Spider is easily among Bloodborne’s best moments. And of course, you’re always welcome to give a nice, warm hug to Moon Presence, the true final boss and a tentacled horror beyond reasoning. Also, in case you were wondering, here’s a compelling case for why Yharnam’s Moon and Earth’s Moon are, in fact, one and the same.