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Since Spelunky first initiated the spark back in 2008, the roguelite genre has been more and more sought after, especially in the last few years. Games like Rogue Legacy, The Binding of Isaac, Enter the Gungeon, Dead Cells, and most recently, Hades have graced us roguelite fans and – with Rogue Legacy 2 scheduled to come out in Early Access very soon and Undermine exiting Early Access early next month – the genre seems to have no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

The one that started it all… FYI the original is still free to this day

I for one am loving this trend. Give me the roguelites, give me all of them and I’ll ask for even more. In my humble opinion, there’s honestly no better to way to unwind after a long stressful day at work than by booting up a roguelite, putting on some music or an entertaining podcast, and zoning out for a couple of hours (which turns into a couple more, and maybe just one more run, until I can unlock that shiny new weapon).

Developed by Veewo Games and published by Team 17 Digital, frantic twin-stick action-platformer Neon Abyss is the latest in the genre. Is it just another roguelite looking to cash in on the trend? Or does it offer something cool and unique that makes it worth playing? I know you’ve already looked at the score but indulge me here. Let’s find out.

(Lack of) Story

Hades or Lucifer?

The story is barebones at best and is definitely a weak point of the game. A super-brief section at the very beginning of the game lets you know that you play as a member of the ‘Grim Squad’, a task force set up by Hades himself to infiltrate the Abyss and defeat the New Gods.

Beyond that, in my 25+ hours of playtime, there’s literally no dialogue, no further progression of the story, nothing.

Not a bad roster

You only have the choice of playing as either Wade or Anna at first, and there are 6 more characters to unlock, each with their own perks (hypothetically – I only managed to unlock 2 in 25+ hours). There are also two extra DLC characters – a katana-wielding anime girl and a flying monk – that you can get for free if you purchase the game within a week of its release, and these are insidiously more fun than any of the others, and it feels slightly sinister to have them as DLC. Sadly, none of these characters have an ounce of personality to them outside of their appearance and description on the character select screen.

The idea of defeating the New Gods is an intriguing and fun concept – the bosses are themed after modern obsessions, for example, there’s one called Tok, the God of Mobile Videos (I wonder why that name), and others are designed around fast food, pills, screens, etc., all modern addictions which can definitely be interpreted as new religions. 

However, for some reason, they don’t seem to follow through with it because the main bosses of the last three stages are not New Gods and are instead well-known Greek ones. And there’s no narrative-based explanation for this either, as like I said, there is pretty much no narrative in the first place. 

Even Greek gods gotta keep up with the times

Also, the lore seems to be all over the place. The neon style is cool and visually arresting, but what even is the Abyss exactly? And the enemy variety is confusing as well – there are flying laser octopi, one-eyed bats, laser bears, walking grenades, jumping blobs, rock creatures…

There doesn’t necessarily seem to be a coherent lore behind the game, more like the devs just put in whatever they thought was cool. Which is fair, not every game needs to be lore-rich, but it is worth mentioning all the same. 

In that same vein, I would’ve liked the inclusion of an encyclopedia like the one in Enter the Gungeon, detailing all the currently unlocked weapons, items, the monsters encountered, etc. but there doesn’t seem to be anything like that.

Anyway, despite all of this, the game does admittedly set itself apart in the genre thanks to its cool (and definitely trendy) neon theme, electronic music, and the twin-stick element.

Speaking of, let’s get to what really matters, the gameplay.

Gameplay & Mechanics

It’s the ‘Woah’ moments like these that make the game worth playing

Neon Abyss is a twin-stick shooter-platformer roguelite game (you read that right). Yes, we have Enter the Gungeon for twin-stick shooting and we have Dead Cells for 2D platforming, but Neon Abyss combines these elements to provide for a niche that hasn’t really been addressed.

Since it’s a roguelite, you’re presented with a unique dungeon in each run, as the layout is procedurally generated. This is basically one of the main draws of roguelites – the unpredictability factor because you never know what’s behind each door.

Rooms contain enemies, coins, hearts, chests, and so on. Chests contain hearts or shields which allow you to take more damage, or keys or grenades. They may also contain purple crystals that are used for a multitude of things. Some chests may just contain another same-sized chest in them, don’t ask me how or why for I cannot comprehend.

The bigger rooms have a teleporter that’s basically a fast-travel system to rapidly explore the level, which is great. Kudos to the map design, as it helpfully provides info about what items are left to collect in each room.

The piano room is a nice chill addition

There is, of course, a shop to buy weapons, items or resources, battle rooms which reward you with an item upon mowing down waves of monsters, and golden rooms have an item waiting for you free of charge. There are also mini-game rooms where you can play the piano, go fishing, dance, etc. to get an item. These offer a nice change of pace but most of the time they’re too expensive to access and the item isn’t worth the cost so I found myself ignoring them when short on gold.

It looks like there’s a lot of items right? Sadly most of them are just variations of the same thing

Coming to the weapons and items, there is a decent number of them, and you can occasionally find new ones even 20 hours into the game. However, I have to say, the depth and the fun of other roguelites are just not present here. There are far, far fewer weapons and items compared to Dead Cells and EtG, and the ones that are there are just not all that fun, a lot of them feel kinda the same. They don’t change up the gameplay enough to really bring you that extra fun factor that other roguelites pull off so well.

Most items are literally just stat boosts disguised in shiny new paint. However, some of the active weapon skills are in fact, pretty cool, so that kinda makes up for it a little bit. There’s one that literally lets you fly for example, and another that lets you slow down time. More of that, please! 

Getting a little crowded in here huh?

The other big draw of the game is the pet system. You occasionally find eggs lying around in rooms or in chests, which you can pick up and they have a chance of hatching into a pet. These pets shoot enemies, throw bombs, pick up health for you, etc., and level up over time too. Some of them can be more of a bother than a help though – Jack comes to mind, that annoying rapscallion, as well as the cat that messes with heart pick-ups (cat lovers will have a morally destructive dilemma here). They won’t stay forever though, they have limited health so they die eventually. Grabber, for example, picks up coins for you and the resemblance to a certain President (cough, Trump, cough) made me chuckle.

So there are 5 stages in the game, each with an increasing number of levels with each having a boss fight at the end. While the bosses are laughably easy in the first two stages (you can literally be done with a boss in 10 seconds flat), the bosses in stages 3 and 4 definitely offer a good bullet-hell type challenge, which I enjoy immensely. The gameplay becomes more about positioning yourself to avoid the boss’ assault while shooting in its general direction, and that’s when Neon is at its most fun. 

neon abyss
Get the ef away from me ya creeps

However, the difficulty spike in stage 4 is insane and definitely needs to be tweaked. After beating the first 3 stages in 13 hours (22 runs), I’ve been stuck on the fourth stage for 15 hours now, just grinding gold crystals to spend on the skill tree to unlock new items and characters to keep it interesting. Due to this difficulty spike and the low number of fun new weapons/items to unlock, I suspect most will drop the game at that point. Unlocking the other characters costs an insane amount of gold crystals (you get one for defeating a boss) – this cost needs to be reduced to make them accessible faster to keep the gameplay fresh. That, or just make stage 4 easier, please?

One very cool feature I’d like to highlight is that at the end of each run, you get a code, which is the ‘seed’ of the game. You can then share this with friends or use it yourself to replay that exact run. This is honestly great and kinda revolutionary for the genre, as it adds a social element to the game and just allows you to replay a really fun, lucky run you had.

Visuals & Music

neon abyss
Guess I’m covered for this level! Also, pretty reflections

The pixel art of Neon Abyss is great, and pulls off the neon look beautifully, nothing really to complain about in this department. What’s really cool is, not only weapons but items are cosmetic as well, meaning they change the look of the character significantly. So you look wildly different each run, which provides a lot of fun visual variety.

A lot of items pay homage to classic and popular games as well as pop culture in general, and this reflects in the appearance as well. An item inspired by DmC might give you Dante’s iconic silvery hair, while another might give you Master Chief’s helmet, Geralt’s white hair, etc. There’s even a ‘Don’t Panic’ reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide which I highly appreciated.

neon abyss
Pretty pixel art is pretty pretty

Most monsters, especially some of the bosses like the TikTok one, are very well-designed. The pets look cute and silly too, though I wish they had more personality, they all kinda blend in after a while. The dungeon itself look good, with background details like posters and neon signs providing some texture to the levels, and certain rooms – the ones with divine statues in them – boast beautifully conceptualized pixel art.

neon abyss
My worst enemy…

Monsters explode in a satisfying burst of blood, even spraying the walls behind them, which provides great visual feedback and this combined with the squishy sound effect makes murder super satisfying. The weapons for the most part sound great (pew pew!), and the accompanying controller vibration each time you fire is highly addictive. 

Though not my personal genre of choice, the electronic soundtrack in Neon Abyss is decent and suits the theme. The music amps up when fighting enemies and subsides when done. However it’s nothing spectacular and there’s only one track, which can get repetitive and grating over long sessions, so after the first 10 or so hours I turned the music way down and listened to my personal playlist.

Also – just a nitpick – as someone who looks forward to the shop theme in games like these – Hades and Messenger, in particular, have great ones – I was disappointed with the one here which just sounds kinda boring.


neon abyss
I’m sorry it’s not a rave review

Though it currently lacks the depth (ironic, given its name) and weapon/item variety other roguelites offer, the neon style and the core gameplay of Neon Abyss are satisfying enough for fans of twin-stick shooters to have a good time for about 15 hours or so. After that, the insane difficulty spike necessitates an unfun grind that just gets too annoying and monotonous for its own sake. 

If the pace of the game and the lack of weapon/item variety are addressed through updates though, Neon Abyss has the potential to stand as one of the great roguelites in recent memory. I just wish it was released in Early Access first so they could address these issues properly.


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