There seems to be an inundation of top-down shooters coming to Switch these days, and JYDGE (pronounced “judge”) is the next in line. Billed by developer and publisher 10tons as both a prequel to and spinoff of Neon Chrome, JYDGE takes the basic formula of Neon Chrome and eschews the original’s rogue-like roots in favor of fixed level design and a more robust upgrade system. With all of these changes, does JYDGE stand out from its predecessor and the genre at large, or does it feel like a lazy rehashing of old ideas?
The player takes control of the titular JYDGE, a robo-cop of sorts tasked with eradicating crime from the streets of the fictional Edenburg. The game starts out by dropping the player into the first level, a home invasion. The controls are explained, and the basics of combat are learned. Essentially, the JYDGE serves as “jydge,” jury, and executioner, as the player uses a modular weapon known as the Gavel to kill enemies in order to clear the level. Each level has its own set of three objectives (up to six after Hardcore mode is unlocked), and the player can finish the level at any time after clearing at least one objective, which grants the player a medal. Objectives can range from killing all enemies in the level to saving all hostages, and even to clearing and exiting the level in under a given time limit. While most of the initial objectives are standard fare, certain levels will have more specific objectives that force the player to approach a level differently than he or she normally might. The inclusion of this mechanic is a welcome addition to a genre that typically has you running and gunning blindly through levels—I appreciate that JYDGE makes you think outside the box at times.
Each successive level will unlock after a certain number of medals have been acquired, so the game forces the player to go back into previous levels to obtain medals he or she may have missed or simply ignored. While I’m not particularly a fan of being made to go back to previous levels, again, it goes back to the idea of having to think outside the box in order to obtain certain medals. I might have avoided a particular “take no damage” objective in one level, but later on I might unlock a riot shield that takes up to 200 points worth of damage for me, which now makes this previously skipped objective a breeze. It’s little successes like this that make me want to push forward in the game and go back to each missed medal.
Speaking of upgrades and unlocks, JYDGE handles these particularly well, especially in comparison to its predecessor. In Neon Chrome, you could change your weapons and gain new abilities, but aside from whatever the player generated with from that run, new weapons and abilities were found during gameplay, and once you die, you lose them forever. In JYDGE, however, there is no repercussion from dying other than to have to replay the level over again, and all purchases and upgrades stay with you forever. Cybernetic upgrades, or upgrades to the JYDGE himself, include increased health, body armor, and a riot shield; upgrades to the Gavel include different bullet types (shotgun, lasers, plasma, etc.) and perks, like bullets don’t damage friendly hostages. When taking all upgrades into consideration, there are countless combinations to try out, thus giving the player a multitude of options when deciding how to tackle a particular level.
As for enemy AI, they’re responsive to player movement, and absolutely brutal in numbers. There’s one level in particular where enemies constantly rush at you in waves, and even though they’re all the standard, low-tier grunts, they can easily overwhelm if not dealt with strategically. Other levels, however, might have a good mix of enemies: some low-tier, some mid-tier (which have mini health bars and usually take multiple shots to dispatch), and some bosses. In one level, I had to replay it multiple times because there was a particular starred enemy who would steamroll me in a couple hits, even from full health. I had to devise ways in which to take him out from afar before he could get close, and it’s moments like this that I had the most fun playing JYDGE. It’s one thing to celebrate a win over a tough enemy, but it’s taken to a new level when you have to strategize, and even change up your upgrades, to come up with the best plan for success. My only complaint would be that, unlike in Neon Chrome, JYDGE doesn’t show when enemies are reloading their weapons—although that could simply be because most enemies don’t live long enough to reload.
On Switch, the game uses the same control scheme as Neon Chrome, so fans of the series will feel right at home here. The game runs beautifully in both handheld and docked modes, but I do prefer playing docked using my Pro controller. One interesting thing of note is that, unlike in Neon Chrome, you don’t necessarily have to use the right stick to aim; as you move the JYDGE with the left stick, his aim moves in whichever direction the player does. I’m not sure if this was an oversight, or if it was an intentional move for co-op play, since you’re only afforded one stick when using a single Joy-Con. Even so, the controls and form factor of the Switch are perfect for this style of game.
As a standalone title, JYDGE exhibits all the best features of a twin-stick, top-down shooter. As an evolution of Neon Chrome, JYDGE takes the core gameplay of the original and improves upon that formula, all while getting rid of some of the elements of its predecessor which held it back. With more control over the player character, no lasting repercussions from dying, and a more robust upgrade system, JYDGE takes the Neon Chrome series (if that’s what we’re calling it) to the next level. While there might not be as much replayability to be found as in Neon Chrome, JYDGE makes up for it by giving the player objectives which forces the player to change up his or her playstyle just enough to overcome each obstacle.
Disclaimer: A review code for JYDGE was provided by the game’s publisher.