In Moonglow Bay, you play as a middle-aged widow living in a coastal Canadian village who's decided to take up their late lover's fishing trade in an attempt to pull themselves out of a depression. If that has you feeling weepy, just know that it's intentional – the core team at developer Bunnyhug is a married couple: Zach Soares and Lu Nascimento, and they designed the game to make you feel a range of emotions.
Nascimento admittedly loves sad games, while Soares is a seasoned fisherman, and the two wanted to make a game that focuses on an older character going through a struggle that is unique to their age bracket. "That was one of the principles. Another is that we like games that build relationships, but not necessarily are romantic," Soares explains. That's why your somewhat recently widowed character will spend their time building relationships with the townsfolk of Moonglow Bay, and with their daughter, who can be controlled in a shared screen co-op mode the two would love to see enjoyed by a real-life parent/child duo.
Published by Coatsink, the team behind the lovely dog-themed puzzler Phogs (which we loved, BTW), Moonglow Bay falls somewhere between a fishing sim and an arcade game. You'll find a little bit of Animal Crossing: New Horizons in there, a dash of Stardew Valley, and a sprinkle of Cooking Mama, all done in a playful voxel art style. Here's what else we learned about Moonglow Bay from our exclusive look at the game, following its reveal at Microsoft's ID@Xbox showcase.
The couple that fishes together…
It's impossible to discuss Moonglow Bay without first discussing the couple at the core of the game: Soares and Nascimento. The two initially started hanging out as collaborators, with Nascimento drawing up pixel art and Soares doing the voxel model of her work. Then the pair fell in love and decided to make a game together. Happily ever after.
Coatsink saw their art, and approached the couple asking if they wanted to make a game together. So they spent a month hashing together ideas, with Soares repeatedly returning to his love of fishing mini-games. "In every RPG, I'd always go fishing first," Soares explains, "and I want to prove that fishing can be a full-fledged mechanic. It was pretty much out of spite." Soares' love of fishing is tied to his youth: he spent every summer working at Ontario Provincial Park, selling worms for the fishermen who would set out from the park's docks, and learning about all of the lures and hooks needed to catch different fish. Nascimento, on the other hand, is not a fan of fishing, but has a strong familial connection to it – her great-grandfather built a fortune off of it.
With Soares' love of fishing and Nascimento's reluctant connection to it, the fictitious world of Moonglow Bay was born, and the two seem to have drawn even more from their lives in order to give that world a beautiful story. "What if you lose the person you've built your entire life around?" Soares asks. It's clearly something they've discussed at length, and it's fascinating to see a couple exploring such a morbid idea through the prism of a serene video game. That they chose to make their main character a middle-aged parent of a college-aged child is even more interesting, as if they're stretching their imaginations well into the future (even though you can create your own character from a small selection of options, the mother's likeness to Nascimento is obvious during our demo).
It's even more clear that Moonglow Bay can be read as a sort of relationship study for Nascimento and Soares when you hear the story: the widower decides, at her daughter's behest, to pick up the family business left behind by her late partner and learn to fish. She'll venture out into various biomes in the area, using a variety of fishing techniques – like line fishing, trap fishing, ice fishing, and more – to catch over 100 different types of fish. Then, she'll return home to prepare delicious seafood meals that can be sold via vending machine to the townsfolk.
Moonglow Bay wants you to tackle two tasks that would be incredibly difficult in the real world: advance through the stages of grief after losing your spouse and help a struggling town regain its footing. Thankfully it's a lot easier to achieve these tasks in Moonglow Bay than it would be IRL, as the fishing is more of an arcade game that has a slight difficulty curve – the fish will get weirder and bigger as you progress, requiring quick-time events and more complex mini-games in order to catch them.
After heading out onto the sea with your trusty dog in tow (and your daughter, if you choose to play the shared screen co-op option), you'll return home with your catches of the day and begin to prepare meals. Prepping is basically "Cooking Mama-style minigames" according to Soares, and you'll be able to compound multiple cooking mechanics as you learn them in order to make new recipes. Be smart with what you cook, however, as the residents of Moonglow Bay won't want to buy the same sandwich several days in a row. As a result, you'll need to approach this like a proper business, taking supply and demand into account.
Brilliantly, the widow of Moonglow Bay's progression is intrinsically tied to the progression of Moonglow Bay itself – even if you don't try, "you can accidentally end up helping the town," Nascimento points out. That's because you'll need to explore more of Moonglow Bay in order to expand the fishing business, and to do that you'll need to speak to other townsfolk. There are ten total side stories you can explore through the friendship mechanic – none of which are romantic options, by the way. "We don't understand why the immediate reaction is to go on and date someone else," Soares says about modern media depictions of widows. "There's a whole community out there, worrying about you and wanting to see you get better," Nascimento points out. Hence the intrinsic tie between the main character of Moonglow Bay and the rest of the bay's residents.
Building relationships is crucial here, and may lead to a request from a new friend to help clean up the town, or restore the windsurfing shack, all of which will help you explore more of the bay and find more fish. Your progress will "inadvertently motivate people to kind of figure out their own troubles and push through," says Soares. Push through what, you may ask? Well, that's what makes this all so interesting.
Moonglow Bay isn't just a small coastal Canadian town. There's something mythical going on in the ocean, something that has the townsfolk terrified to go out onto the water, with myths of sea monsters pervading conversation. That's why the town is struggling – it was once known for its fish merchants and bustling marine-based economy. And that's what happened to your spouse: they were lost at sea, years ago.
When you decide to take up the helm of the family business and venture out into quite literally uncharted waters, you'll begin to imbue the town with a sense of confidence in the ocean. Moonglow Bay's gameplay is split into five total acts, with five major monsters that occupy five different, beautiful voxel-art biomes of the sea standing between you and the end-game. "All of the spirits of fishermen who've passed have given themselves to the water. And this is where you get these weird biomes and stuff," Soares explains, and he promises when you encounter these biomes and the sea monsters that inhabit them that there won't be any violence. "It's not a fight, but more of a puzzle," he says.
In order to get to all of those biomes, Moonglow Bay employs a Breath of the Wild-like feature that requires you to get a specific item to move into those different areas, like an icebreaker bow that will allow your ship to move through thick ice. How do you get these items? By talking to the townsfolk, of course. They'll likely parrot many of the myths that have handcuffed this coastal town, and set you on a path to exploring whether or not magical creatures exist in Moonglow Bay.
"People are afraid that their emotions are going to get consumed and they're going to turn into weird sea creatures," says Soares. It's your job to overcome the crippling depression that has set in after losing your loved one, and in turn help the town overcome its crippling fear of the waters of Moonglow Bay. You might want to have tissues nearby.
Moonglow Bay is being developed by Coatsink, and is set to launch on Xbox Series X, Series S, Xbox One via Xbox Game Pass, and PC via Xbox Game Pass and Steam.