Birthed from the novel idea of fleshing out a fishing mini-game into a fully-fledged experience of its own, Moonglow Bay is a charming indie from first-time developer Bunnyhug. Set in a dilapidated fishing town in the 1980s, it features a gorgeous voxel art style and a story that will make even those with the blackest of hearts well up. With only more simulation-oriented fishing titles falling into the same loose category on modern systems, it certainly stands out conceptually, and fortunately - it's pretty solid overall.
The heartfelt narrative here sees you step into the shoes of a middle-aged widow, who has recently moved to the titular town following their partner's passing. At the start of your story, your character is an absolute mess; their house is littered with noodle packages and they live alone in a small house beside the beach without a job or any prospects for the future. Your daughter, River, later returns home, however, and convinces you to pull your life together and follow in the footsteps of your partner - a former angler. There's one slight problem though, the town has landed itself in some crippling debt after urban legends left its residents too scared to fish. Of course, as always, it's up to you to come to the rescue and investigate whether there's any truth lurking behind these mysterious nautical tales.
As I praised before the narrative has a lot of emotional depth, and each character feels genuine and authentic - like somebody you'd meet on the street. I also really like that your character has their own fleshed-out personality and isn't just a mute like in so many other titles. The only fault I found in this department is with regards to the Spanish translation. Basic details such as gender pronouns aren't translated properly which is surprising considering they pop up so early in the game. Of course, I can't say whether this is the case for all languages outside of English, but it's worth bearing in mind.
Fishing is, of course, the core activity here and there's actually quite a lot of depth involved. Before casting your line out into the ocean, you'll have to consider what lure, bait, and rod you want to use, as these have an impact on the fish that you'll catch. The location also matters too, so you'll need to travel the waters on an old fishing boat and experiment by visiting different spots. Reeling in your catches requires you to react at the right time and pull your rod in the opposite direction to what the fish is struggling in. If you are too aggressive though, you'll snap your line and then the fish you had hooked will swim freely away.
There are more than 100 species of exotic fish here and documenting them and learning about their strange origins is a pretty addictive task. You carry with you a journal and this functions a bit like a Pokédex, as it stores details such as a fish's size, weight, and individual characteristics. Hilariously, one fish was said to cause infidelity, and another was believed to be the source of the town's gossip. It's not just fish that you can hunt for too. You can lay down traps to catch lobsters and cast your net to gather sand fleas and other creatures to be used as bait.
Once you've caught these fish you can either donate them to the local aquarium or cook them up into some tasty dishes for profit. By donating them, you'll get to learn more about them, and you can actually view your catches swimming around within the aquarium's tanks. Cooking requires you to perform several mini-games whilst completing tasks such as washing, chopping, frying and boiling. These mini-games I quickly found tiresome, as they require you to just push a button at the right time or move your analogue stick in a particular spot. This isn't helped by the fact that you'll be repeating the same actions during different dishes.
The third and final core pillar of Moonglow Bay is its life-simulation elements. Across the town, there are many colourful characters that you can meet and befriend. Completing requests for these townspeople via the bulletin board is the most effective way to earn shells (in-game currency) that can be spent on upgrading your fishing gear and base of operations. The quests that you undertake usually involve cooking a specific recipe or grabbing a certain fish for somebody (you know, simple stuff), but it just feeds into this addictive never-ending loop.
Whilst Moonglow Bay is an undeniably charming experience, navigating across its blocky world can often be a real pain. First of all, the map doesn't tell you which quest a specific objective marker is related to, so it can be hard to navigate your way around unless you disable all other active quests. Even walking across the environment could be a pain at times too. The game doesn't take place on a flat plain, and your character is unable to jump, so you always need to find a path leading around or up towards the area that you are planning to get to next and this isn't always extremely obvious.
I can honestly say that fishing has never piqued my interest in all of my 28-years, but Moonglow Bay managed to get me hooked from the get-go. Cataloguing its weird and wonderful aquatic life was a pure joy, and I had a lot of fun experimenting with what I'd find if I used different bait or went to a new location. That said, the cooking mini-games do feel a little tedious, and I hope a patch is implemented in future to make navigation a lot easier. If you're seeking a charming and creative indie that really feels like nothing else out there, then you could do much worse than this one.
7 / 10
Its core gameplay loop is addictive. It's fun to hunt for its weird and wonderful aquatic life. Its narrative is emotionally-charged. It has a gorgeous voxel style.
Navigation can be tricky. Cooking is tedious. The Spanish translation isn't accurate.