Neon Chrome is yet another top-down, twin-stick shooting adventure with little in the way of story, but it’s a fun time nonetheless. What the game lacks in any kind of narrative motivation to see it through to the end is mitigated by procedurally generated content, in both level design and choice in player character, which makes Neon Chrome ripe for replayability.
The game starts out with a bit of exposition in explaining the nature of the world, that the mega-corporation, Neon Corp., rules over all modern society. Beyond that, there isn’t much to go on in the way of narrative, as the game thrusts you right into the tutorial. You learn how to move, shoot, and use your abilities, and the game explains its upgrade system. Once learned, it all quickly becomes second-nature and you essentially jump right in.
The basic idea of Neon Chrome is to work your way through each level of Neon Corp. to face each area’s Overseer lying in wait on the top floor—that equals out to 30 levels through which to run-and-gun to reach each Overseer. For a game that’s self-described as a “shooter with rogue-like elements,” this may seem rather daunting at first glance. For genre newcomers, solace can be found in the fact that, after every fifth level or so, progress is saved, so there is a bit of breathing room to err.
The twist in Neon Chrome is the fact that not only are the levels procedurally generated in true rogue-like fashion, but there is some degree to procedural generation when it comes to your player character as well. The player character assumes an unknown identity, but establishes a neural link with a choice of three different loadouts, essentially. Each character has a unique name, and can have different starting weapons, abilities, and number of ability slots, as well as certain buffs or debuffs. I found the different combination choices to be a fresh take on character selection, but the fact that the loadouts seemed arbitrarily put together and that you might not necessarily get to pick the same loadout on respawn was a bit dismaying—though it does force you to try out different weapons and abilities. There also seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why these characters exist in the game’s story, or lack thereof.
The game’s lack of narrative is mostly a non-issue, though, since gameplay is king in Neon Chrome. In that respect, there’s a strong experience to be had here. Combat is fluid, and the use of the environment as cover is key—as is, at times, destroying it. I had gleeful fun in melee attacking through a wall, only to come up behind an unsuspecting enemy to deliver the fatal blow. It’s also worth noting that enemy AI is particularly spot-on, as they can easily overwhelm in large numbers, and they flee when their health is low. It’s also great that the game shows when human enemies are reloading, giving you the perfect opportunity to lay in a ton of lead or plasma.
After every fifth level or so, there is a boss level, where usually there is a main boss with normal enemies sprinkled throughout. I found these battles to be particularly tense, especially once all resources in the level have been consumed. While it is sometimes disconcerting to make it all the way to the boss only to die and have to start the last five levels over again, is definitely ups the stakes and makes every shot and dodged bullet count.
The weapons and upgrade system isn’t as robust as in, say, NeuroVoider, but there is a decent offering here. You can pick up new weapons and DPS upgrades to those weapons in various lootable boxes throughout most levels, and new abilities are gained from the few stations sprinkled throughout the game. For abilities, the player is given four options to choose from, so there’s almost always something of interest to be had. I’m personally a fan of anything that increases max health, and there was nearly always an ability that satisfied that in some way. Additionally, you can spend the currency you obtain from lootable boxes before you select your loadout on such things as increases to max health, damage output, luck, and others to beef up your base character. These upgrades add a nice touch, as they feed into whichever loadout you end up choosing, rather than the upgrade system solely relying upon what you find out in the wild, and it adds a level of control to how you want to build your character out.
Though Neon Chrome has been out on other platforms for some time, it feels right at home on Switch. The game is visually stunning in both docked and handheld modes, and the colors pop nicely on the Switch’s screen. As with most games on Switch, I preferred playing docked and using my Pro controller, but the game works just as well in handheld or while using the Joy-Cons. I did notice some frame rate hiccups in docked mode, but it wasn’t detrimental to my experience; the game runs at a 60 frames per second otherwise. As with many other indie Switch titles, it would have been nice to see the game’s developer and publisher, 10tons, utilize the Switch hardware in somewhat unique and meaningful ways, such as touch controls or even HD Rumble support, but that’s not so much a complaint against the game as it is wishful thinking.
Despite a few drawbacks, Neon Chrome exhibits all the best qualities of rogue-likes and twin-stick shooters in its gameplay and a consistent, if only mildly robust, upgrade system. More control over initial loadouts would be a plus, and having to start over after making a good chunk of progress can be disheartening, but an autosave system and great gunplay mitigate these shortcomings. The game, as a rogue-like, by its nature gives it ample replayability, but fun gameplay and a feedback loop, which leaves me saying “one more round,” makes Neon Chrome worth coming back to.
Disclaimer: A review code for Neon Chrome was provided by the game’s publisher.