Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
July 14, 2020
Neon Abyss starts with Hades calling you “the enemy of my enemy” and asking you to kick the butt of an organisation called “The Titan Group” for taking his powers and killing your family. It’s hard not to get a bit excited about what’s to come. When the pixelated, mustached, Reservoir Dogs looking Hades slides a cup your way and exclaims “If you seek revenge, DRINK IT”, you know sculling it is your best and only option. Because in this case, revenge is a cup containing green glowing liquid. When I saw my little character slam his cup down and then float into the dungeon, gun at the ready, I was excited to kick some butt, find out more about who Titan was, what I had to do to avenge my family, and what the hell Hades had to do with all of this.
As a rougelike platformer, Neon Abyss focuses on your character traversing dungeons with interconnecting rooms that can be more easy to move around once you unlock portals. These portals stay open throughout each one of your runs. You are first equipped with a gun, but more weapons can be bought and found throughout your journey.
I played Neon Abyss on PS4 and the gun mechanics were a bit frustrating. You press up on the right analogue stick to shoot, but your gun can go off when simply walking around. This isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but it was kind of annoying having your gun fire when you were just cruising around and exploring.
Your main objective is killing everything without dying so that you can go onto the next area of the dungeon, which is locked whilst you fight. Each room is different. Some contain monsters, some just contain chests, whilst others may just contain a number of hearts. You start with three hearts in your health meter, but these can be increased by beating bosses and increasing your abilities with item drops. These monsters come in the form of rotating corpse-like heads that when hit turn into tiny corpse-like heads with wings, flying green squid-like dudes, and robotic teddy bears to name a few. Most are either flying or grounded but all usually emit bolts/flames that you have to skillfully dodge. Even though the enemies are varied, their fighting styles are quite repetitive and can become a bit samey after a while.
After you beat all the baddies in the room, you can explore and hopefully open up some treasure chests. These contain keys and grenades. The former lets you unlock areas and chests, whilst the latter lets you blow up walls that have chests behind them. The loot in these chests were disappointing however. They only consisted of keys, grenades and possibly a half or full heart. I would have liked to see weapon upgrades or abilities in the chests of rooms that contained harder enemies. I’m a big looter, so the goodies in these chests just made me go “Oh… that item again”. The dopamine rush never really occurred for me like it does in games that have varied and special items to loot.
Other rooms within the dungeons contain boss fights. These can be easily distinguishable as their entrance is a fiery red, devil-like totem. These bosses are focused on the concept of 20th Century Gods. Such as “God of Screens” and “Gods of Fast Food.” The latter are two clown-like heads that bounce around and throw fast food items at you that can, like real fast food, deplete your health. They rotate around the room, whilst you have to avoid their vile concoctions and try to blast them away with your equipped weapon. The “God of Screens” also flies around the room, waving its wires and shooting bolts of electricity. The cool thing about this guy is that at some stage he turns into a bank of screens. To lower his health in this form, you need to shoot at the screens where his angry red face is displayed. This was probably my favourite boss fight due to this simple yet impactful touch.
The way these Gods are treated by the developers is where my biggest problem with this game arises – there is absolutely no exploration about who they are and why they are important to battle. There is no narrative whatsoever after that initial cutscene, which was disappointing as the premise, to me, was an exciting one. It is obvious that this game isn’t focused on narrative and I know that not all games need to have a narrative focus. However, a few more cutscenes or dialogue throughout would have added more clarity as to why fighting these bosses were important, especially after that riveting first scene. This lack of context made the experience a little lacklustre.
When you defeat the Boss, they drop gems that lead to upgrades. These upgrades include Mercy Hood (double the amount of hearts recovered), Death Believer (kill enough enemies and you’ll drop extra hearts) and Hidden Room (access to hidden rooms within each dungeon level). These upgrades can be accessed in the Bar. This is where you go to when you die. You can also change your character here. Four characters are accessible to begin with and there are ten characters overall with unique abilities and loot. I was disappointed that out of the ten only two were female. Even more disappointing was that these female characters wore minimal clothing whilst the male characters were fully clothed. So yeah, points off for gender stereotyping, Neon Abyss!
Each time you enter the bar you need to float down a dark hole which then leads you to the same area where you can begin your run. The map is simple but I love how it shows you the items available if you teleport there. Even if your health was full, it’s still good to know that when you need it, there is a room that has a few hearts you can use to regenerate.
Weapons can be found throughout the game but I only came across a few. They can also be purchased in the ‘shop.’ The frustrating thing about this shop was that there was no description of the item before you invested in it. Therefore, you had no idea what you were using your hard earned coins on. Coins are dropped by killing enemies or shooting the crap out of boxes around you.
There are also eggs that are scattered around the dungeons that cling to you until they hatch. A lot of the time my eggs came up empty, but when they did contain a special little guy I was able to have access to an ability that helped me on my journey.
With that initial cutscene, Neon Abyss had the potential to be an interesting and exciting game. The one-sided conversation with Hades broached themes of revenge, violence and morality. There was so much potential here to explore these themes even to the tiniest degree. The game could have taken some pointers from Enter the Gungeon which incorporates both roguelike mechanics and narrative. As a player who is motivated by unique and evolving narratives in games, this would have motivated me to invest my time further in exploring the dungeons and upgrading my skills. But even though it was a good looking game with fun enemies, it wasn’t enough to keep me glued to my controller.
- Fun, cute graphics
- Exploration of the interconnecting dungeons can be entertaining
- Doesn't follow through with its initial narrative
- Loot isn't that interesting
- Gender stereotyped characters left a bad taste in my mouth
- Repetitive enemies
Neon Abyss was a fun romp in a world that is colourful and filled with interesting bosses. However, it lacked an ability to fully engage me due to the lack of understanding why I was engaging with these enemies. Sure it was fun in a “let’s kill all the flying baddies” way, but the absence of anything other than entertaining and cutesy graphics struggled to keep me excited about booting it up. If the devs had included more cutscenes and even dialogue, this platformer would have had me more motivated to run its gauntlet.
For me, Neon Abyss was a game that had me aching for it to be something that it wasn’t. To just give me a little bit of context and answer some of the questions that it had me asking due to that original cutscene. If the cutscene hadn’t been included, I may have been able to just enjoy running around shootin’ and explorin’ and not be focused on finding clues to the answers to my questions. However, the way the game didn’t follow through with the narrative it presented was a deal breaker for me.