Moonglow Bay (Xbox Series S) Review

Moonglow Bay is a compelling combination of minigames and life-sim, though it might be a little too laid back for some fans of the genre.
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Moonglow Bay – developed by Bunnyhug and published by Coatsink Software – takes two simple yet enjoyable QTE-driven minigames, fishing and cooking, and makes them the backbone of a streamlined life-sim. It’s unlikely to hold the attention of those who crave arbitrary complexity and constant micromanagement in the genre, but as someone who swiftly grew frustrated with the escalating requirements in games like Stardew Valley, My Time at Portia, and Graveyard Keeper, Moonglow Bay felt like a breath of fresh air.

Moonglow Bay kicks off with the player picking from several older characters as the protagonist, with a range of appearances and a pronoun of your choice. You then pick their partner – and their pronoun – before a brief tutorial provides a little backstory and context for events to come. Your protagonist, a veteran accountant looking for a change, has come to Moonglow Bay intent on starting a fishing industry with their partner and inherited boat, “The Two Cats”. This dream is dashed when their partner disappears at sea, triggering 3-years of aimless mourning in the titular town. The business slowly goes bankrupt, as does the town when superstitious locals avoid the water and the fishing trade dries up.

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There’s a surprising amount of dialogue in Moonglow Bay but at least it provides a cohesive narrative arc that frames the action for a dozen hours.

One morning – the day the protagonist’s partner is officially registered as deceased – their daughter arrives, intent on starting a job in the town and reigniting the economy. It’s a heavy and emotional start, but the tone quickly changes to a more upbeat and hopeful experience as you work to restore the fishing business, the town, and revive the tourist trade. Sure, several NPCs have tragic backstories or unfulfilled dreams, but most are just quirky archetypes that need something from you in return for a key item to progress the story.

Unlike many games in the genre, Moonglow Bay has a brisk story told over 5-chapters (about 10 hours of gameplay, depending on how easily you’re distracted) that sees you discover the truth behind many of the townsfolks superstitious beliefs and unravel several mysteries – both past and present – and learn a bit about conservation. It also helps that these “quests” are rarely locked behind a grind. There are plenty of opportunities to fish, cook, make money, and invest in upgrades to your boat and kitchen, but key items required to progress the narrative are typically earned through quests that require you to provide a meal or catch a specific fish.

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With a few upgrades, you can turn your boat into a home-away-from-home, allowing you to sail, fish, and cook for days without returning to shore.

When it comes to the daily gameplay loop, Moonglow Bay relies on fishing- and cooking-based QTEs to engage and challenge the player. Fishing uses the long-established cast, fight, and reel formula: cast your line, pull your line against the motion of the fish, strike when it’s tired, and slowly work it back towards your boat (or the shore) to catch it. Cooking, on the other hand, is all about meters, timing button presses or holds, and guiding the thumbstick. Each meal requires a sequence of steps – think washing, chopping, filleting, boiling, frying, and baking – with the final quality of the meal based on how well you performed each step.

Of course, finding rare fish and cooking complex dishes requires information and recipes. One of the last gifts from their partner was a fishing journal, which you slowly fill based on rumours from the town and, later, with more detailed information from the local aquarium (which gladly accepts every new species you catch for their collection). As a result, many primary quests – or additional tasks from a town noticeboard – involve a bit of light research and planning. Using your journal, you can see where a fish is located, what sort of lure or bait you need to use, and can plan your journey accordingly. When it comes to new recipes, you either earn them from mastering simpler ones or purchase them from a local chef.

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The fishing mechanics also come into play during “boss fights” – puzzle and timing-based challenges that conclude each chapter.

Naturally, there are plenty of diversions to spice things up. First and foremost are the “boss” encounters at the end of each chapter – observation and timing-based challenges involving the many weird creatures that inhabit Moonglow Bay (the game straddles a line between realism and surreal). You can also spend time earning shells (i.e. currency) by catching fish and preparing meals, which can be invested in upgrading your ship, kitchen, or restoring the town. By preparing specific meals for certain NPCs each day, you reveal a little more of their background and raise their friendship level.

Reading through that last few paragraphs may make it sound like busywork – par for the course in this genre – but Moonglow Bay aims to minimise the grind. All the different rod and lure types are provided by quests, as are most cooking implements (rather than needing to be bought/crafted). Recipes only require the sealife you capture, with a trivial cost for additional ingredients (you’re not going to be farming vegetables or baking tacos). Time slows down when indoors and cooking, ensuring you can churn out several meals for NPCs (or for sale), without taking up valuable fishing time. Neither food nor fish spoil, and anything placed in your vending machines will be sold within 24-hours and instantly credited to your account. All these choices ensure you’re constantly moving from story beat to story beat.

Although I never spent much time with it, Moonglow Bay supports local coop. This mode allows another player to assist in every task the primary player can tackle – like meal preparation or steering the boat – and they can also directly assist when it comes to reeling in tougher fish.

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The voxel-based environments and interiors can look impressively detailed but screen tear is all too common when moving around the town at a run.

A big part of Moonglow Bay’s appeal is how good the simple act of fishing or cooking looks, thanks to the stylised voxel graphics that are simple but effective. They capture the fishing town atmosphere and are complemented up by a fantastic soundtrack from BAFTA-nominated Lena Raine. There’s no voice acting but there are plenty of entertaining vocalisations – think excited cries or exasperated sighs – that make it easier to get through the considerable amount of dialogue. If I have one complaint – one that will supposedly be remedied in an upcoming patch – it’s the lack of v-sync or a framerate cap on consoles, resulting in constant screen tear whenever you’re moving at a run.

Looking back on a dozen hours spent in Moonglow Bay, it provides a relaxing, enjoyable, but breezy life-sim experience. Enjoyable but perhaps a little too streamlined for its own good, when considering the audience and their expectations of the genre. If you’re after some relaxing busywork, a game that allows you to both progress the story with ease or just chill and fish for days, Moonglow Bay is a solid pick. On the other hand, if you enjoy constant micromanagement dozens of systems, it may feel too laid back and lacking in challenge.

Moonglow Bay was reviewed by Gameblur using an active Xbox Game Pass subscription

Moonglow Bay (Xbox Series S) Review

Moonglow Bay (Xbox Series S) Review
7 10 0 1
Moonglow Bay is an engaging but streamlined combination of fishing- and cooking-based minigames and life-sim. The player can always tackle any task at their own pace and rarely has to grind, though this means some fans of the genre may find it a little too laid back.
Moonglow Bay is an engaging but streamlined combination of fishing- and cooking-based minigames and life-sim. The player can always tackle any task at their own pace and rarely has to grind, though this means some fans of the genre may find it a little too laid back.
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    7/10 Good
    The 5-chapter story starts emotional and heavy but swiftly becomes uplifting and hopeful.
  • Gameplay
    7/10 Good
    The bulk of your experience will be fishing and cooking minigames followed by visits to key NPCs. The streamlined elements will be great for some players but might feel underdeveloped for others.
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
    The colourful and vibrant voxel visuals work well with the setting and gameplay but some patches are still needed for visual stability.
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good
    The excellent soundtrack and ambience are instrumental to the atmosphere.

The Good

  • Simple but enjoyable fishing and cooking minigames
  • Streamlined mechanics ensure you rarely have to grind to progress the story
  • A great soundtrack that generates the perfect atmosphere

The Bad

  • The streamlined elements and general lack of challenge won't be for everyone
  • Visual stability needs work on consoles
Total
7
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