HIGH Blasting through gods like they’re nothing.
LOW The game has more content than playtime.
WTF Nothing for something is too often an outcome.
The roguelike genre has become a go-to in the indie scene, and one that’s been met with acceptance. Although the forerunner and namesake are from the US, during the dark days when that style fell out of fashion, it was Japanese developer Chunsoft tirelessly iterating on Shiren the Wanderer that kept the ‘Mystery Dungeon’ genre alive.
There are other luminaries in the genre such as Spelunky and Faster Than Light, but I can already see my editor massaging his brow and sighing ‘AJ, please just get on with the review and stop this rambling intro to roguelikes, and no you can’t call them “Mystery Dungeons” for the rest of the review’.
[correct – ed.]
With pan-global genre credentials established, it is now Chinese developer Veewo Games’ turn to put their spin on roguelikes with Neon Abyss.
The plot seems to be that the player is tasked by Greek goddess Athena with killing other gods while set against an evocative 16-bit neon theme, but I am not entirely clear on this, and I’m not sure it matters.
Neon Abyss is a 2D platformer/exploration game with rooms split up in metroidvania fashion offering shops, combat encounters, platforming sections, and more. Each map is procedural, and after 5 to 7 maps, a run ends with a God-themed boss.
Along the way to a boss fight, the player will collect gold, bombs, keys, crystals, items (passive buffs) and eggs that hatch into pets that help (or hinder). Gold is used for buying stuff from the store, bombs blow up walls, stone chests and revealing hidden rooms, and keys are for opening locked doors and treasure chests.
This is all pretty standard, but then Neon Abyss adds spice — crystals are collected for unlocking nodes and some shop doors, and they also add to the Wisdom meter whenever they’re used. This leads to secret rooms holding more powerful items, but there is a opposite to wisdom – Violence.
Violence can be done by shooting nodes and doors, and then throwing the character at them. Similarly, there are items to be found that add Violence, and balancing Wisdom with Violence is important. All Wisdom buffs are focused on defense, while Violence buffs are primarily focused on attack, and a player needs both to be able to succeed.
The final spin Neon Abyss offers is a staple of the best roguelikes — items can be combined and layered in an often gamebreaking fashion.
Early on I found myself stumped by bosses and some levels — I could see what I was supposed to do, but not how. Luckily, failed runs award meta-currency that unlocks new passives (players can try before they buy) and new rooms, and this is when I started finding builds that felt incredibly powerful.
For example, in one run I had an item that boosted my firepower when I had a low crystal count, and another that boosted it when my crystal count was high. Then, I had a third item that gave me an extra jump for every egg I had hatched. At that point I was firing beams of light that reflected off surfaces and wiped whole rooms of enemies in seconds. In another run, I could straight up fly.
A good run often requires being able to see what will synergize well and then guiding the character down that path. Unfortunately, Neon Abyss makes this hard by requiring a passive item to see descriptions of things before buying them. There are a lot of items and I ended up creating a spreadsheet to track everything – not a great look, but it didn’t stop me playing.
This obtuseness is also in the procedural generation of Neon Abyss. It sometimes feels like it puts something potentially interesting behind a locked door or in a chest, and then offers nothing that’s readily available. This means that progress can be stopped early in a run, or and there were moments where my progress slowed to a crawl due to the procedural generation failing to generate anything I could use effectively.
My final complaint is that while Neon Abyss is delightful when I’m unleashing screen-filling destruction, I actually found myself completing the game on Normal before I had even unlocked the first three (of eight) skill trees. I’m not sure what tweaks I want to resolve this, because making it ‘harder’ isn’t what I enjoy, but all of that content being locked behind a grind means I’m never going to see it.
The empowerment and novelty of toppling gods made me look past the fact that Neon Abyss might be a bit too easy for vets familiar with this style of play. On the other hand, this makes it a great starting point for those craving a more forgiving difficulty curve, or newcomers wanting to begin their exploration of the
Mystery Dungeon-like Roguelike genre.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Veewo and published by Team 17. It is currently available on Switch, PS4, XBO, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via Game Pass and reviewed on the XBO-X. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Gore, Crude Humor, and Violence. The game is cartoonish in its violence, although there are a couple of creatures that might scare younger kids with their macabre expressions. Otherwise this game is quite tame.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is fully playable without sound. The text cannot be resized nor can the colors be changed. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls. The Y axis cannot be changed, but this is not relevant to this game.