Title: Neon Abyss
Developer: Veewo Games
Release Date: July 14, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
With roguelites being so popular these days, I’m always curious to see how developers use those elements in their games. Occasionally it can provide for some really interesting gameplay while other times, it feels like a crutch in place of thoughtful game design. Neon Abyss by developer Veewo caused me to ponder on the merits of its roguelite gameplay. At best, it does allow for a ton of experimentation, but other times it can feel a tad repetitive.
Starting your journey, you find yourself talking to a well-dressed man that informs you that the “Titan Group” killed your family. He says he can help you get revenge as a part of the “Grim Squad” whose job it is to journey through the ever-changing Abyss and defeat the Titans. Most other plot elements are given as vague hints, but it quickly gets you into the gameplay, and the story mostly becomes secondary thereon.
Neon Abyss focuses on shooting and exploring your way through a dungeon that generates its rooms differently every time you visit it. After getting through each dungeon, there is a mini-boss waiting for you at the end. After a collection of these tough smaller encounters, a Titan tops off the whole level. When you die, you are sent back up to the Neon Abyss bar and rave to recoup and try to prepare yourself for the next dive into the Abyss.
Each run begins with a standard gun that will quickly change into something else due to weapon drops. There are a ton of different guns you can come across, each with their own quirky perks and deficiencies. When interacting with a new weapon, you can test it out to keep it or easily switch back to the previous gun you were wielding. Along with your arsenal, you can also acquire numerous gear that works as ability buffs. These buffs range wildly from offensive boosts to the ability to fly.
As you make your way through dungeons, you will accumulate more weapons and buffs. Instead of losing buffs you already have, they are combined with the boosts you acquire, which Neon Abyss calls “synergies.” This is when the gameplay is at it’s best, as every synergy feels very different from one another, and in turn, changes how you play. Some items create a high risk and reward, like exploding bullets, which, if you’re in close enough, proximity can hurt you as well as create a devastating attack against your enemies. Synergies are a great use of roguelite gameplay, keeping you on your toes and are just a blast to play around with.
Level design is, unfortunately, where the roguelite elements fall flat. Although the layouts, like your items, are different each playthrough, you will quickly become a bit too familiar with rooms that you’ve visited numerous lives before. Sure they might be in different locations or have new enemy types, but it doesn’t always feel like the unique experience it is perhaps meant to. On top of this, whole dungeons and rooms have the same artistic design no matter which Titan resides in it. Because of this, levels can feel extremely repetitive. I think even changing the atmosphere or theme of a dungeon for each Titan or playthrough would have gone a long way in making the experience feel a little more interesting.
Unfortunately, the same goes for enemies and bosses. While mini-bosses do have some color as well as placement and difficulty variations, you will fight the same bosses again and again. Most of these bosses are pretty fun and have cool designs, but adding in a few more would have really kept these battles feeling fresh. When you get to later dungeons, Titans you previously defeated can also become mini-bosses, but it’s not enough variation with the number of times you will repeat these battles.
The length of the stages also increases in later parts of the game; sometimes, it takes up to eight levels before reaching the Titan. If you die at any point during those levels, you will return to the surface. It’s not as brutal as some roguelites go but expect to get close to an hour in only to die and have to start again. To ease your journey a bit, there are several difficulty settings as well as a skill tree you can unlock by earning crystals.
On average, I unlocked about five crystals about every hour I played. With multiple branches of your skill tree each taking around 3 to 15 crystals to progress, there is a ton to unlock. Skill tree unlocks can give you new weapons, buffs, special rooms placed in dungeons, or even new characters to play. While these characters are interesting, I mostly found myself sticking to characters near the start as some of the unlockable characters aren’t as well rounded.
In breaking tradition from most other roguelites, if you happen to like the layout of a dungeon and the items in it, you have a chance to replay it with a “seed code.” Seed codes are given every time you defeat a boss or die in the Abyss. It’s a neat little addition that can really help out if you’re struggling and need a leg up, or if you just really enjoy the items of that particular layout.
While there are ways to help you, the game never feels like it holds your hand, and at times it can be pretty challenging. Luckily another strength of this adventure is the excellent controls. As chaotic as your power-ups may be, the controls always feel precise and responsive. Using the right analog stick to aim and fire feels like the right move, in this case, giving you maneuverability without sacrificing your main attack.
Neon Abyss is a mixed bag. While power-ups and synergies offer a fantastic variety, the same cannot be said of the Abyss and its design. There’s fun to be found here, but it ultimately doesn’t supply the addicting gameloop that other genre greats provide, making it tough to continue after an untimely death.
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