There are few genres that get the blood pumping like a great twin-stick shooter, due in-part to their sheer elegance. Because of this crystal-clear purity, twin-stick shooters, or shmups as genre veterans affectionately refer to them as, are a time-tested gameplay staple, and I can see them remaining that way for a long while to come. Developer 10tons Ltd, the studio behind Crimsonland, has crafted a nifty little title that scratches the itch for any shoot-em-up fans out there that have a hankering for something that will get their pulses racing to the beat of some catchy new-wave electro-pop tunes. Heck, who doesn’t?
On paper, Neon Chrome is a top-down, roguelike, neon-drenched cyberpunk twin-stick shooter which doesn’t necessarily re-write the genre rulebook, but instead applies a lick of new, effervescent paint to a tried-and-tested formula. Its real charm and charisma come into play when you drill down into its gameplay systems, which are satisfyingly dense. There is a surprisingly deep number of systems at-play here that really steal the show.
For a start, there are tons of upgradeable weapons at your disposal. These take the form of your usual glut of assault rifles, shotguns and SMGs, however, all of these come in different Plasma, Lazer and Ion flavours, which really help to jazz up the moment-to-moment gameplay experience of running and gunning. Add to that roster a handful of more exotic variants, such as rail-guns, mini-guns and blowtorches, and you start to get an idea of the sheer diversity that is at-play here.
This depth doesn’t just end with the weaponry, though. Cybernetic enhancements are unlocked and can be invested into your player character (or “assets” as the game refers to them as). There are a multitude of these perks, which range from increased melee damage, increased damage protection, increased speed and a handy upgrade that significantly boosts damage output when your health is below 25%, to name but a few. There are also a selection of roles, which function very similar to classes. These add another wrinkle to the variety with their own personal, unique secondary attacks and a few extra class-based accoutrements such as the ability to hack systems, or the welcome gift of a regenerating protective shield (with the rub of having a smaller pool of base HP).
Gameplay-wise, Neon Chrome shares more characteristics with the exemplary twitch murder-em-up Hotline Miami than say, the more traditional schmup sensation Super Stardust Delta or the disappointingly lacklustre Tachyon Project. It’s no where near as taxing as Devolver Digital’s breakout hit and there’s slightly less reliance on twitch-focused reactions, but the mechanics and audio-visual feedback is unquestionably analogous.
There are a few neat ideas that Neon Chrome brings to the twin-stick shooter party. Firstly, the light roguelike elements procedurally generate the level designs, which really helps to mix things up and add a little life to each run. Furthermore, the fact that most walls are destructible is a nice touch, too. Taking down walls to hardline your way to a level’s exit, while groups of shield-wielding riot guards inch closer and closer behind you is edge-of-your-seat stuff and really encourages occasional moments of emergent gameplay that can’t be found in the aforementioned titles. Bosses punctuate every set of five levels and these are also a pretty cool highlight.
There are, nevertheless, a few niggles that hold back the experience. The roguelike elements can be both a blessing and a curse. Levels can sometimes run the gamut of needlessly long and ridiculously short depending on the random generation of them. Add to this, the fact that levels often lack the meticulous, hand-crafted design of Hotline Miami and soon start to feel a little samey and monotonous, is an unfortunate pill you’ll probably have to swallow, dependent on your mileage. Also, the soundtrack just isn’t a patch on the 80s breakbeat dance euphoria that is found within Hotline Miami, however, what the hell is?
Having said that, Neon Chrome is a deceptively good game, with surprisingly deep, nuanced systems and a wonderful sense of progression. It performs really well on Sony’s handheld and is blessed with a solid framerate. If you’re on the hunt for a groovy, little shmup to get your pulse racing then look no further than Neon Chrome.
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