Just when I thought I had played enough twin-stick shooters.
Listening to feedback from developers on Twitter, it’s clear that Nintendo has successfully established a space for indie titles to thrive. Being able to cherry-pick the best titles from Steam and other platforms has been a boon for Nintendo followers, and the trend continues this week with the release of Neon Chrome from 10Tons Ltd. Not to be written off as just another addition to the twin-stick shooter genre, Neon Chrome brings new ideas and addictive gameplay that makes this title both thoroughly enjoyable and highly replayable.
The entirety of Neon Chrome takes place inside of a massive building which houses a million citizens all cybernetically connected to each other. Every 4 years an Overseer is voted upon to take charge of the building and the citizens therein. This time the man who would become Overseer aims to take control by any means necessary and it’s up to you to stop him. By hacking into the network, you take control of one citizen at a time as you fight your way through drones, both robotic and human, until you’ve reached the Overseer himself at the very top.
As a newly converted fan to twin-stick shooters, it still took some time to get comfortable with the gameplay and progression metrics. The controls are simple enough: the left joystick controls your character's movement, the right joystick controls the direction you aim your weapon and the melee attack, the ZR button shoots your primary weapon while the ZL button fires your secondary attack. I was initially turned off by the use of the right joystick, as the aiming felt too loose and pressing the joystick to trigger the melee attack felt cumbersome. After a couple of hours of play the aiming came more naturally. The L button can be used to trigger the melee attack which will prevent your thumb from getting sore pushing down on the joystick, though the game never mentions this.
The progression of your character is pretty clever. The actual protagonist sits in a VR-like chair and controls a human host. These hosts have a range of classes with different abilities. Hackers come with a drone that will attack enemies, Assassins are invisibile when standing still, Techies have a regenerating shield, and a number of different styles of soldiers are available with different enhancements. When choosing a host you’re presented with 3 options from random classes. Making your way through Neon Chrome you’ll come across numerous upgrades to unlock that will grant enhancements to your host. If your host meets their demise, the enhancements remain unlocked for future hosts to utilize, meaning the longer you play the stronger your hosts become.
In game loot is collectible throughout the level and is used after a host’s death. Permanent improvements to health, damage, enhancements, luck, and secondary weapon energy is purchased with the currency that also carries over to future hosts. It’s nice to know that your gameplay is rewarded, since many of the indie titles we’ve seen released on the Switch rely on permadeath as a core mechanic which can lead to frustration when you see all your hard work thrown out the window by a cheap death.
Even the collection of new weapons can be applied to future hosts. Once a new weapon is unlocked it can replace the host's default weapon for a bit of the looted currency. In most cases it wasn’t necessary to use the currency to purchase weapons since there will be plenty to pick up in your journey but it’s a nice inclusion if there is a specific gun you enjoy playing with and want to start using right away.
The uniqueness of Neon Chrome comes through travelling through the procedurally generated floors. The goal of each floor is to get from the elevator you start from, to the elevator that will take you up without dying along the way. The floors feel like an office building, and you’ll walk down long hallways, through cubicles and other types of obstacles all while dealing with different types of enemies. Almost the entire floor and everything in it can be destroyed with the exception of a few indestructible walls to prevent you from simply blasting your way to the next elevator. The freedom of exploring the level and developing different strategies to eliminate your enemies was immensely gratifying. If you have a strong weapon you could eliminate enemies by shooting them through walls, or if you’re feeling sneaky you could utilize walls as shields and play cat and mouse with your enemies. Between the numerous different host classes, weapons, and procedurally generated levels gameplay still feels fresh through each playthrough.
Of the different kinds of Nindie titles that have come to Switch this is definitely my favorite genre. I’ve started to become picky about what I play though as there’s been a lot of roguelike titles released, almost to the point of saturation. Initially it didn’t feel much different from some existing games I played until I started to realize how much freedom the levels allowed. After discovering new power ups and developing new strategies I became addicted to dethroning the Overseer. If you’ve been initially turned off of the genre because of the permadeath nature and potentially low replayability than Neon Chrome is a great title to get your toes wet with as it’s probably the least roguelike Shooter/RPG released so far on the Switch.