I don't know much about fishing, but neither does the protagonist of Moonglow Bay. Despite their last name being Fisher, the person you inhabit in this fishing simulator isn't an expert angler, so the protagonist and the player learn all about lures, lines, and rods in tandem.
In Moonglow Bay, you're the middle-aged partner of a former angler who has mysteriously disappeared in the waters surrounding the town. You've spent the last three years knee-deep in discarded instant noodle containers, the hallmark of a deep depression. Moonglow Bay is struggling as well, with boarded-up buildings and a failing fishing trade that's all because the entire town is scared of the water. When your daughter River returns from college, however, you're snapped out of your funk and decide to learn the art of fishing to honor your lost lover and help restore Moonglow Bay to its former glory.
Moonglow Bay is both somber and sweet, with moments that will bring a tear to your eye and others that elicit a genuine chuckle. At times, it can be a wee bit frustrating, with the occasional wonky control or weird movement glitch that snaps you out of the relaxation and reminds you that this is, indeed, a game. But when it's not frustrating Moonglow Bay is a lovely fishing and cooking simulator about love, loss, and learning new things - and how all of that can be done no matter how old you are.
The Bay Area
Release Date: October 26, 2021
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Developer: Bunnyhug Games
Moonglow Bay is beautiful. The voxel art style is charming and unique, offering ample opportunities for you to "squee" at a square-headed raccoon or an adorably boxy seal. Simple swirling lines dance across the screen to indicate wind and the ocean's current is represented by a variety of polygons. There are so many beautiful little details that will delight you, like the bright glow of morning sunlight shining in through the kitchen window as you prep fish tacos at 9 am, or the voxel version of a fish you've only seen in your in-game journal dangling from your fishing line. The visuals are accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack that wraps itself around you like a warm audio hug - I'm especially fond of the lively string score that picks up whenever a fish snags your line.
And Moonglow Bay's story is just as beautiful as its AV. The denizens of this town barely know who your character is, and it's touching to see them open up more and more to her (you can pick your character's pronouns at the start of the game). Moonglow Bay was clearly once a lively town full of anglers and seafoodies, but just like your character, it's seen better days. The fact that both the protagonist and the town simultaneously improve is a lovely lesson on overcoming depression and finding a new lease on life in your middle-age.
Each townsperson tells you of a new fish you should be on the lookout for or a specific seafood dish they'd like to eat, which gives you more entries in your journal and more recipes to test out. Head out onto the water and catch fish with relative ease, either with a variety of rods and bait, a net, or a lobster trap. Fishing in Moonglow Bay is mechanically rather easy - harder than Animal Crossing: New Horizons but easier than Red Dead Redemption 2. You'll just need good timing and the ability to pull the lead in the right direction - if only fishing IRL were that easy.
When you're not on the open ocean catching fish, you're in your adorable house with your trusty dog Muffin standing at attention, making delicious meals. The cooking aspect can get a little boring, as you'll need to do the same few quick-time events or mini-games in order to get the food done - but as you unlock new ways to make larger batches or a new knife that makes filleting easier, the cooking mechanics get fresh again.
Cooking and fishing will help you make more money (or shells), which is how you'll restore Moonglow Bay. You can sell your food in a little vending machine outside of your house or do little side jobs for the locals that will earn you more shells. Those shells can be used to fix up buildings around the town and contribute to the reopening of the Sea Market. The shells can also help shore up your boat to protect it in icy waters. But there's something else mysterious going on at Moonglow Bay...and it's up to you to get to the bottom of it.
The monsters of Moonglow Bay
From the onset, it's clear that Moonglow Bay can be somewhat dangerous. Your partner isn't the only person who has been lost at sea, so the townsfolk perpetuate myths of monsters in the ocean's depths. But are they really myths? I encounter my first boss rather early on, a giant whale circling a hidden lake with harpoons embedded in its back. Though it thrashes and damages my boat as I use my rod to snare and yank the harpoons off of it, it's clearly not a malevolent creature bent on killing seamen. When I pull the last rod out of it, the beautiful creature dives up out of the water and dips back in and River wonders if it's thanking us for the help. Helping the whale isn't just good for your soul. Afterward, the townsfolk feel safer venturing out into the water, and the Sea Market opens for business again, giving you a chance to buy new lures, learn new recipes, and grab some fresh fish to prep if you weren't able to go out and fish that day.
Moonglow Bay balances the fishing and cooking sim aspects with more dramatic boss encounters, switching back and forth between them with ease. After helping the whale, I'm given three new rods from expert anglers around the town and challenged to sail to new areas to catch fish with each of them. It's there that I meet a square-headed fish named Dave and catch enough bay ripples to make a hefty batch of fish and chips. But as I sail out to complete these tasks, the score gets ominous and rain begins to lash down - a warning of a gathering storm that will inevitably lead to another boss battle.
The monsters and their effects on the town of Moonglow Bay is an engaging story that really has you rooting for this fictional little town. With every new fish that I catch, building that I upgrade, and recipe that I hand-deliver to a quirky little Canadian, I feel myself falling more in love with Moonglow Bay. It's a place I'd love to visit if it were real - I'd spend a winter wearing fisherman sweaters and smelling vaguely of haddock while listening to its citizens sing sea shanties.
Unfortunately, because of a weird glitch with that whale battle, my Moonglow Bay progress has been slow. But I can't stop thinking about where the story is heading. While writing this, I caught myself humming the little fishing song as I typed. Moonglow Bay has certainly caught me in its net, and it just might catch you, too. If you have Xbox Game Pass you can enjoy it for free. What a catch.
Moonglow Bay is out October 26 on PC, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One.