There are all sorts of games I’m happy to play in my free time, but few make me smile more than monster collecting games. Years of playing Pokémon has conditioned me to enjoy catching ’em all more than pretty much anything else, but Game Freak aren’t the only ones making monster collectors anymore. From Cassette Beasts to Coromon, there are a whole load of indie games full of adorable critters to collect, but not a lot of them feature farming too. Moonstone Island truly has something for everyone, so strap in folks.
In Moonstone Island you play as a young alchemist living on islands above the clouds. After being trained by your parents in the ways of this magical craft, you’re given the task to survive for a year alone to prove your skills are up to snuff. One trip on a magic broomstick later and you arrive in a quaint village full of people to make friends with and resources to gather. It’s a simple setup, but one that gets you stuck into setting up a farm and exploring the world nice and quickly.
Especially when you arrive at the village the initial focus is on farming. Growing crops involves that loop of hoeing, planting and watering that we all know pretty well at this point, but doing so is essential if you want to raise some money and gather a selection of stamina boosting consumables. Even more important though is growing the flowers that can be used to tame wild monsters, because how else are you going to gather a selection of adorable battle pets.
When you’ve done your chores for the day it becomes time to explore, because there’s a whole lot to find out among the clouds. With a charge of your broom you can shoot off in any direction to look for other floating islands, which are sure to have plenty of loot to find hiding on them. Thanks to a handy whistle that takes you home with a single toot, you don’t even have to worry about overdoing it and are free to adventure until the sun sets.
As well as goodies and plants, most islands you visit will also house a dungeon. Early on it becomes apparent that exploring these dungeons is one of your top priorities, regardless of the dangers they contain. There are traps, monsters and treasure chests galore in these maze-like environments, so you’d better have brought your best critters to keep you safe as you look around.
Monster battling in Moonstone Islands is card based, with each monster in your party of three having an individual deck of cards to use on opponents. Each turn you have three energy to spend on playing cards, then the baddies get a chance to retaliate. Early on you’ll mainly have cards that either deal damage or break the armour of the enemy, but before you know it you’ll be adding status effects and drawing extra cards to find the perfect deadly combo.
Winning enough battles will give your party the experience you need to level them up, which grants them a boost to one of four stats and gives you a choice of three cards to add to their deck. Alongside the standard levelling you’ll also find shrines that grant you other ways to improve your monster’s deck, like the ability to power up a specific card or remove one entirely from the deck if it’s become obsolete. There’s a huge amount of depth to the deck building once you get stuck into it, and I really enjoyed tinkering with the cards to create an unstoppable trio of friends.
The depth is also present in the farming side of the game, which expects you to gather all sorts of resources to upgrade your homestead. Using up your stamina each day to chop wood and mine for ore is essential if you want to forge new equipment and build new workbenches, and if that’s not enough you even have a home to decorate if that appeals to you. The balance between exploring and farming feels just right, and there’s always something to work towards that’s worth all the hard graft.
There’s no point having a beautiful house if you don’t have someone to share it with, but romance is on the cards if you put the effort in. Each of the charming residents of the village can be spoken to multiple times daily, and each time you chat there’s a percentage chance that you’ll get closer to that shopkeeper that tickles your fancy. Even if you’re unlucky though you can always win someone over with a thoughtful gift, and before you know it you’ll be having dates on the beach.
This is only a snapshot of what’s waiting for you in Moonstone Island. Alongside everything else there’s also fishing, a mysterious magic man who wants you to help restore his memory, and a full skill tree of handy perks you can invest skill points into. Moonstone Island is a really dense game, and pretty much all aspects of it are implemented brilliantly.
Despite how much I love this farming-monster collecting deck-builder, it does have a couple of small issues. At the start of the game you have to endure that farming game trope of chatting to everyone in the village, and there’s no easy way to see where any of them are at a specific time, which is more than a little frustrating. It’s also worth mentioning that at the time of writing the performance on Steam Deck is a little ropey, with some fairly significant framerate issues for a game that doesn’t really seem like it should be a problem for Valve’s handheld. Hopefully a patch or two will sort this out though, because it’s a game that’s ideal for a portable console. It’s not a deal-breaker, but just know that it’s an issue if you’re planning on playing there.
Moonstone Island combines monster collecting and that beloved farming gameplay loop masterfully, and the end result is seriously compelling. Whether you’re on the farm tending to some fruit or in a dungeon fighting an ancient statue come to life, you’ll always be having a good time with this charming title.
Blends farming and monster collecting seamlessly
The card based battles are great
So many varied activities to dive into
Exploring is always a blast
Has some performance issues on Steam Deck currently
Finding the person you're looking for can be annoying