[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
10Tons Ltd’s release of Neon Chrome on the Nintendo Switch marked the game’s latest platform outing after having already launched on PC, PS4, iOS, Android, Xbox One and Mac. The game’s initial release on PC back in the spring of 2016 was marked with very little fanfare and not much discussion among gamers. However, I can say that the launch on the Switch seems a lot more relevant given the system’s dearth of content and the fact that some cyberpunk fans might want something neon and glowing on their Switch after having seen a movie like Blade Runner 2049.
The game puts you in the role of a nameless hacker attempting to overthrow the evil Overseer running a powerful and dangerous tower called Neon Chrome. The Overseer, throughout the game, is hoping to take over the world by uploading neural control mechanisms into his brain. Your goal is to make your way up the 33 floors across six different levels.
The game is a rogue-like, top-down, twin-stick shooter with physics based properties and procedurally generated levels. Many of the walls, doors, and environmental objects can be destroyed with enough firepower. Heavy weapons like the rail cannon, rocket launcher, and sniper rifle have the ability to completely wreck most environments, but they come at the cost of slow firing speeds. There are also a variety of other guns in the game as well, such as shotguns, SMGs, assault rifles, plasma guns, burst rifles, and more. Each weapon also has a sub-weapon type such as laser assault rifles, or ion shotguns, or plasma SMGs. You can loot these weapons from out of crates as you progress through the game.
The rogue-like elements center around player operatives being susceptible to permadeath. Essentially, as the unnamed hacker you will enter into a Matrix-like device and take control of a clone.
The cloned operatives you’ll be able to assume throughout the game cycle through a handful of different classes, including assassins who can disappear in the shadows, soldiers who get riot shields to mitigate incoming frontal damage by about 20%, and even hackers who seem to have the biggest advantages in the game by being able to access certain terminals and open specially locked boxes that usually contain special weapons. The operatives you’ll control will cycle out each time you die, and some of them even have interesting names… like Linda Lovelace.
But you won’t be choking on pipes from a gang attempting to get you to blow your opportunity to succeed, instead you’ll be facing off against a variety of security droids, guards with high-powered rifles, mini-bosses with overshields and rocket launchers, and even some heavily armored tank-like robots guarding certain areas.
The permadeath factor means that when you die as that operative all of their individual upgrades will be lost. So there’s definitely incentive not to die. However, you can also upgrade the general stats of the unnamed hacker, so things like HP, your general damage output, luck, and mod slots are permanent. Also, as you progress through the game you can unlock upgrades, weapons, and mods, which will go into your base stash.
Basically, once you die (and you will die) you can get some of your stuff back by equipping it from out of your weapon, ability, and mod stash so long as you’ve unlocked the item during your run.
The game isn’t entirely unforgiving, though. You’ll get checkpoints after each boss fight after you complete a floor. So if you die you’ll start on the first room on the next floor from the last boss you fought.
The trick for the game is that the higher you scale up the tower the more difficult each stage becomes. Things get even harder because due to the procedural level layouts many of the stages change up when you have to replay them if you died. So it’s not like you can just memorize where the enemies are when you have to redo them. The only stages that stay consistent are the boss stages.
Now in some ways the game encourages you to start from a lower level after you’ve leveled up to become really strong because in each stage you can access an upgrade station to upgrade that particular clone with various mods. So the more mod slots you unlock and the more stages you complete the more powerful that particular clone becomes. It’s a little like running old dungeons in games like Borderlands or Diablo in order to get additional items, money, or gear before tackling the later stages.
I think the concept of the stage setup, operatives, and leveling means that you’re encouraged to replay the game quite a bit in order to get super strong, which is kind of neat.
Additionally, you also can’t unlock certain other upgrades until you beat the game at least once. So the more you play the harder it gets but also the stronger you can become.
To help aid you along the way is a four-player cooperative mode where you and up to three buddies can team up locally to blast through the stages, which helps a ton. The co-op is especially useful for setting up flanking maneuvers or using things like setting down mines and then luring enemies into a trap.
Now one of the supposed benefits of the Switch is playing on the go. For the most part 10ton’s Neon Chrome works well in portable mode, but when the physics start coming into play with lots of explosions and walls and objects being destroyed, the frame-rate does drop. It happened a couple of times when a rocket enemy shot a rocket past me and he blew up a series of rooms with a bunch of neon lights and the subsequent of the rooms being destroyed caused the game to skip a beat. It’s not game-breaking but it is noticeable at times.
In TV mode there were no drops and no issues with the frame-rate, however.
As far as criticisms are concerned with the way the game handles… it can be a strain playing with the Joy-Cons in the portable mode due to the way the Joy-Cons are designed. It just feels inconvenient (mostly for the right hand) at times trying to constantly handle the analogs and the trigger in a game where you have to constantly keep the right analog positioned where you want in order to aim.
As for the gameplay… most of it works well enough but it was a bit annoying not being able to get out of the way of fire in any convenient way. If your operative doesn’t have high speed then you won’t really be able to dodge anything other than carefully peeping around corners. There’s no roll or dodge, so the game relies more on you having the twitch skills to out-shoot the enemies. In co-op it’s not much of an issue since you can have someone draw enemy fire while you use a sniper rifle to shoot from a distance, so there’s less tactical logistics involved. But in single-player you just have to be a jack of all trades, which can make the latter levels extremely difficult unless you roll some good luck and get a decent operative along with some decent starting gear.
Another issue I had was that melee wasn’t very effective due to how it’s designed. Maybe if you could get different weapons it would have seemed more useful, but usually I only relied on melee when performing sneaking attacks by using the stealth mod and taking out baddies from behind. In full frontal confrontations the melee just seemed a bit sluggish and hard to pull off in a way that made it feel like a good alternative to shooting. Mostly it’s due to the fact that you have to push in the right analog while also aiming it in the direction you want to melee. It’s just highly inconvenient for your hands to pull it off as quickly or as efficiently as you can in many other third-person or first-person shooters.
I did have fun with Neon Chrome, and the game can get addictive once you get into the groove of figuring how to best outfit an operative that gels with your play-style. The four-player cooperative mode also makes it extremely enticing for those of you with multiple Joy-Con sets, multiple Pro Controllers, or other third-party controllers. Unfortunately you can’t use a single set of Joy-Cons for two-player co-op, nor can you play it online, which is kind of unfortunate.
For $14.99 the game will definitely give you your money’s worth as far as content is concerned. However, you’ll have to weigh whether or not a local-only multiplayer co-op feature is worth it, and if the awkward handling in portable mode will be something that suits your gaming preferences. This is definitely a try before you buy.