Welcome to the month of Mune! This month, we explore the top ten instances of moons in video games. What are some of your favorites that should also be included on this list? Let me know in the comments!
10) The Lunar Cry
Final Fantasy 8
Nothing drives me up the wall quite as much as when I’m trying to walk to my next destination but an onslaught of random encounters halts my progress every few steps. Have you ever wondered, though, why there are so many monsters?? Final Fantasy 8 actually provides a unique explanation… monsters are from the moon!
Long before the Blood Moon of Breath of the Wild was reviving all the slain creatures of the world, we had the “Lunar Cry” of FF8. During this phenomenon, monsters on the moon would all gather at one location and then, similar to the tides, gravity would cause them to spill out toward the Earth in mass numbers resulting in catastrophic events like the destruction of entire cities. Millenniums would pass between these events, and it just so happens that our main characters get to witness one such occurrence from the cozy vacuum of space.
The entire space sequence is easily the most iconic moment of the game to me, and it features the first ever award-winning “pop” song from a video game, “Eyes on Me” written by Nobuo Uematsu, English lyrics by Kako Someya, and vocals of Hong Kong pop star Faye Wong. Move over, opera scene of Final Fantasy 6!
9) Ending of Portal 2
If you haven’t beaten Portal 2, maybe you want to skip ahead to number 8. Ready to go on? Okay! Let’s set the scene…
You and your AI personality core companion, Wheatley, have outsmarted GLaDOS for a second time after accidentally waking her from her previous defeat. You accomplish this feat by extracting GLaDOS’s personality core, placing it in a potato, and then replacing it with Wheatley thus giving him full control of the Aperature Science Enrichment Center. Wheatley, in his new position, suddenly becomes mad with power and makes it his prerogative to destroy you just as GLaDOS previously attempted. Before Wheatley is able to bring down the entire facility from his lack of sanity, you, now teamed up with Potato GLaDOS, hatch a plan to put GLaDOS back in her place to get things back in working order. While encountering Wheatley for the last time, a hole is ruptured in the ceiling during your struggle and you just barely catch a glimpse of the moon. As we all know, Portals can only be made on the surfaces of moon rock. With some quick thinking, you shoot your second portal straight at the moon thus causing your first portal to be linked directly to the surface of the moon. Both you and Wheatley are sucked into space, but at the last moment, GLaDOS pulls you back into the facility while Wheatley floats away with a few of the other personality cores.
This may be my favorite video game moment of all time. I love how even in the final battle, you use an element of puzzle solving from what you’ve learned over the course of the entire game in order to bring it all to an end. I remember distinctly having that “wait a minute….” feeling when I realized what I was supposed to do. If we’re never going to see a Portal 3, I’m glad Portal 2 ended as epically as it did to leave such a lasting impression.
8) Rainbow Road
Mario Kart 7
Rainbow Roads have been testing our abilities to stay on the raceway ever since the original track in 1992 on Super Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo. While they’ve all been set in space (is the first one set in space…or is it just a black void?), Mario Kart 7 featured the first track that actually had you racing over the surface of a moon. Craters and rolling Chain Chomps were amongst the obstacles in which you would engage. Additionally, MK7 showcased the first instance of a Rainbow Road that was one long continuous track rather than three laps of the same course. Especially memorable were the sections where you’d use the glider to fly through star-shaped speed boosts while avoiding giant asteroids. Of all the Rainbow Roads we’ve gotten over the years, I think my favorite is found in Mario Kart 7.
7) Space Zone
Super Mario Land 2:
6 Golden Coins
(Game Boy 1992)
How do you get to outer space? You ride in a giant bubble produced by a hippopotamus!
One of the most interesting aspects of the Space Zone in Super Mario Land 2 is that its boss, Tatanga, is actually the main antagonist of the first Mario Land game. While Mario was off fighting to save Princess Daisy of Sarasaland, Wario seized the opportunity to take over Mario’s castle (Wait… Mario has a castle? Where did he get a castle?) and hide the six golden coins that unlocked the front door. Having suffered defeat, Tatanga sought revenge and was recruited by Wario to guard one of the golden coins in the far reaches of the Space Zone. Mario, seeking readmittance to his castle, dons a space suit and sets off to face the alien invader one last time.
It’s a shame that Nintendo didn’t continue the trend of introducing new villains like this throughout the main Mario series. And how clever of them to use a former boss as a mere henchmen in a sequel! Can you imagine if Bowser was just the boss of the first world in a long quest to face an even greater evil?? I also think Nintendo missed a major opportunity to utilize Tatanga in the Super Mario Galaxy games. I mean, come on! Mario goes to space…but we’re still fighting Bowser?? Bring back Tatanga!
6) Lunar Apocalypse
Duke Nukem 3D
“Nobody steals our chicks…and lives!”
If you crossed Arnold Schwarzenegger from Terminator2 with Bruce Campbell from Army of Darkness, Duke Nukem would be the result. In fact, both of those movies came out around the same time when the original side-scrolling platformer was released in 1991. By January of 1996, we had already seen the rise of first-person shooters with Wolfentstein 3D (1992), Doom (1993), and Marathon (1994). Additionally, the original Playstation had just been released with the N64 following right around the corner.
Duke Nukem 3D stood out in that it, for the most part, ditched the hellish settings of previous games in the genre and placed you in more familiar locations like movie theaters, subways, and hotels. The second episode, however, takes Duke to space to face off against an alien Overlord in an attempt to rescue the babes of Earth. Of course, Duke’s lust for saving beautiful women was only a distraction so the aliens could attack the planet.
My first experience with this game was at a friend’s house and I was drawn-in immediately by the explosive weapons, the whacky catchphrases, and the interactive…environments. Whenever I started up a new game, I knew that it was “time to kick ass and chew bubblegum. And I’m all out of gum.”
5) Moon Patrol
Here’s an obscure one – Moon Patrol! I remember playing this initially on Atari when we borrowed a cartridge from a family friend. I also remember being TERRIBLE at the game. The premise of the game is simple. You’re a moon buggy driver trying to navigate the lunar surface while avoiding rocky terrain and attacks from alien UFOs. As the game goes on, more and more UFOs are added to mix with each of their shots causing additional craters on the ground.
As a kid, when most games were just a single screen, I don’t think my young brain was ready to keep track of moving to the right while also worrying about what’s happening above me. I specifically remember obstacles where there’d be two craters or mines in a row with a small space between them. I could never time my jumps quite right and would always end up crashing. If I thought the Atari game was hard, the arcade game was ten times harder. I remember playing it after a round of mini golf at the Mini Putter where I grew up. The quarters didn’t last very long!
Check out the various iterations of the game here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHFeJOlSdLc
And the Moon Patrol original commercial for the Atari 2600: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5lvy6lCVHc
4) Final Fantasy IV
Giant birds, hovercrafts, boats, and airships were all par for the course when traveling the vast regions of Final Fantasy 4. I thought we had seen every possible type of transportation. However, then we get to this part of the game (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQPS54TixL4) where a group of magic users summon a giant airship from the depths of the ocean. It’s called….the Lunar Whale? Wait. Where is it taking us? Wait. WAIT. THE MOON!?! We can’t seriously be going to the…holy shit, we’re going to the moon!
Long before Final Fantasy 8 shuttled us to outer space, we explored the red moon of Final Fantasy 4 (known as Final Fantasy 2 in the U.S.). Does the moon actually look red? Nope. But, that’s no moon. It’s actually an artificial structure that orbits the real moon, and it is home to a race of people known as the Lunarians.
I was in 3rd grade when my friend and I reached this plot point. After this moment, I remember being so enthralled by the thought of space travel that, at school, I would ask my teacher to use the computer lab so I could write stories about my friends and me exploring the moon as characters from the game. The last thing I remember about the story was discovering a dragoon knight (my friend Travis) in a cave where a single beam of light illuminated his position. I never did finish my novel. However, it’s fun to think that I was writing fanfics at just 9 years old.
3) Zemoon Walk
MECC Space Subtraction
(Apple IIe 1985)
If grade school taught me anything, it’s that I should be rewarded with games after successfully completing my work. The software developers at MECC had the same idea.
Our younger selves never knew it, but MECC stood for The Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation. Founded in 1973 and based in Brooklyn Center, MN, our favorite education games like Number Munchers, The Oregon Trail, and Space Subtraction were made just down the road from where I grew up.
According to the original manual, “Space Subtraction presents drills that reinforce and reward correct calculation of problems with an opportunity to play games.” Sign me up! Cosmic Creature, Blast Off, Space Match, and Shuttle Trip were a few of the other games featured on the original 8-inch floppy disk. Zemoon Walk, however, was my top choice. Referring again to the manual, “Zemoon Walk drills on whole number subtraction problems with one- or two-digit numbers. After each group of five problems, the student can play a game of ZEMOON WALK. The object of the game is to estimate the coordinate of a safe landing place on the moon.” The manual goes on to contradict itself on the very next page by saying the game is played after every eight problems. Honestly, I thought it was after correctly answering ten problems… (After watching a video, I learned that eight is the correct number).
Anyway, if you look at the picture above, you’re trying to land your alien friend, Zebug, onto either of the two flat spaces on the ground. The numbers at the bottom are the coordinates, and it’s up to you to guess a number that will be suitable for the craft. My strategy was to divide the screen in half, figure out the mid number by dividing the high number by two, and then attempt to make subdivisions to further help my estimate. After awhile, I got pretty good and was always excited to see the little animation that resulted (To see for yourself, go here [warning…naughty language]: https://youtu.be/3D9ETASNlP4?t=796). The game must have worked because I was a whiz at our math worksheets. Unfortunately, grad school doesn’t have a MECC equivalent.
2) The Moon
If I were to do a Top Ten list of best music on the NES (which I might do!), the Moon Theme from Ducktales would easily earn the #1 spot (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KF32DRg9opA). Hiroshige Tonomura, who worked for Capcom and later Taito, is credited with composing the game’s music. Oddly enough, I’m not familiar with any of his other projects. I did, however, listen to bits of music from Destiny of an Emperor, released on the NES around the same time as Ducktales, and you can definitely hear a distinct style.
His Moon Theme went on to appear in 2013’s Ducktales: Remastered with all new arrangements written by Jake Kaufman. My personal favorite version is Kaufman’s arrangement for piano which can be heard during the credits (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HCog0iDPJ8). I loved the piece so much that I even reached out to the composer by e-mail to see if I could get a copy of the sheet music. He never responded.
A few years later, the Moon Theme was cleverly used in the 2017 Disney reboot of Ducktales on the episode “Whatever Happened to Della Duck?” in season 2. Using the main melody, Della Duck sings a lullaby to calm a crying Moon Mite (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJW5n8f0Z9o).
Going back to the game, exploration of the moon has Scrooge McDuck searching for the Green Cheese of Longevity by pogoing off of the heads of aliens, trekking through a massive UFO, and summoning the help of Gizmoduck to blast a wall that’s blocking the way forward. At the end of the level, Scrooge confronts a Giant Moon Rat who mutated after eating a portion of the cheese. Once defeated, Scrooge finally claims his prize. This level would be awesome on its own, but Tonomura’s timeless track is what sets it apart from any other game.
Raphael the Raven fight
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
1) Majora’s Moon
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Well, it’s Groundhog Day…again…and that must means we’re up here at Clock Town waiting to be crushed by a giant moon summoned by the world’s most-famous master of mischief, Majora, who’s just about to tell us how much more of everything he’s going to consume.
In a bizarro version of Groundhog Day, Link must continuously relive a three-day cycle or else the world will be destroyed by the nightmare version of Earth’s nearest satellite. In real time, this amounts to about 54 minutes of gameplay or 2 hours and 42 minutes if Link plays a particular song on his ocarina to sloooow doooown the tiiime a la Bon Iver. You would think that this is more than enough time to travel to the nearest temple and defeat it’s boss before resetting the cycle (defeated bosses stay defeated and aren’t reset along with everything else). But… it’s not! You have to plot out EVERY small detail of your three-day journey with the utmost precision or you’ll be scrambling harder than a college freshmen trying to meet their 11:59 pm assignment deadline.
There are four temples in total. When I first played this game on the 3DS remastered version, I remember reaching boss rooms with less than five minutes to spare and clenching every muscle in my body trying to figure out attack patterns as the clock slowly ticked down to zero. Some of my most tense battles were won literally at the last second with my counter falling below the ten-second mark. Can you imagine being a few sword slashes away from victory after a grueling play session of 2 hours and 42 minutes only to have all your progress ripped away from you in an instant? It’s infuriating! A loss in Majora’s Mask hits you, and it hits you hard. The only takeaway, ideally, is that you’re now equipped with a little more knowledge to retrace your steps.
Consequently, the game’s seemingly biggest flaw is also its most intriguing feature. You BECOME Phil Connors in that Groundhog Day scene where he knows everyone and he knows what’s going to happen. The pieces slowly come together as you endlessly relive your interactions and the events in Clock Town. Eventually, it’s not a matter of where the hell you are…but WHEN the hell you are! This mechanic fascinated me to no end. I loved following people around to learn their schedules. I loved seeing the town life change between day and night. I loved making connections between characters based on when I spoke with them. While sometimes frustrating, I’d love to see MORE games like this where paying attention to minor details can net you major rewards (See also Beholder on Steam).
Anyway, let’s get back to the main topic… The moon of Majora’s Mask stands out above all others as that ever-looming face inches its way closer and closer to forcing you to spend another 2 hours and 42 minutes of your life in an infinite time loop. Nightmares. Nightmares forever.
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Thanks for reading! Stay posted for another Top Ten list in July!