The puzzle genre has been steadily doing well on consoles since the release of Portal with The Orange Box in 2007 and has seen a number of great titles arrive in the last few years such as The Witness and Quantum Conundrum. It must be said that I have been a fan of some of these titles, but it has been a long time since I had the chance to challenge myself with a new puzzle game.
Neon Junctions is a title released on Xbox One in June 2019 that certainly has some stand out elements compared to other titles on the market; its 80’s inspired vaporwave soundtrack, as well as its overall synthwave aesthetic is an aural and visual treat for the player. The game features a total of 34 3D levels with an increasing difficulty and the aim is to capture and move conductive cubes, close electrical circuits and restore power to interactive objects. Only then can you access a teleporter which enables you to move on to the next level.
While this all sounds impressive I wanted to take a deeper look at the game and see if it can rekindle the joy I had towards puzzle games of this style; to see if it is a game that people both new and familiar to the genre can enjoy.
The first thing you’ll find when you begin Neon Junctions is a very short but to the point tutorial on how the puzzle system works. There are only a handful of buttons you will need to use during your run of the game and only a short amount of mechanics to learn as you progress. This is a great idea as it allows the player to jump in right away as well as enabling the game to be easily accessible to a wide player age and skill range.
While the controls are simple to understand I do feel that your character generally moves too slow, perhaps as a means of helping with the precision of placing the cubes. However, I found it much too stiff. Luckily the developers thought ahead and allow you to change your look sensitivity at any time within the options menu, and after tweaking the sensitivity I found the game much more comfortable to play. However there is another issue that arises in terms of movement – the jump button does seem to be slightly delayed if you were doing a ‘run up’ to a certain puzzle. This is frustrating as it caused me to fall a number of times.
Once I had got to grips with the overall controls and mechanics available during the first couple of levels I began to really notice the great soundtrack. It is rather calming and changes just enough every 4-5 levels that it never becomes annoying or monotonous. I would say that it perfectly compliments this style of game and keeps you level headed enough to think about how to overcome some of the trickier puzzles on offer. The music also perfectly suits the neon scenery on each level, so much so that I was fondly reminded of the original TRON movie.
In terms of the difficulty and it must be said that I found it quite easy for the first half, but towards the end the levels are certainly quite challenging yet rewarding. It is great to see the game introduce new mechanics every so often in order to keep the levels fresh, and it’s a wise idea to have the first level that introduces a new mechanic be on the easier side, just so the player can get to grips with this new idea before the difficulty spikes back to what it may have been previously.
While I say Neon Junctions is easier during the first half, there are some levels early on that may well stump you unless you begin to think outside of the box. It’s great that the game tries to mess with things in that way because it allows you to think critically about how to take on the later challenges. Without giving away the answer to certain levels, I feel the developers have done a great job in ‘training’ the player to overcome the game. I’ve really enjoyed the later challenging levels and would love to see more levels as a DLC pack in the future.
Although I have enjoyed my time with Neon Junctions it is a very short experience of only around a couple of hours. That is not to say this is a total negative against the game because some of us, myself included, enjoy shorter gaming experiences. I feel the experience on offer here reflects the price asked, however it may well be better suited to those who wish to purchase it on the Nintendo Switch and play handheld on their commute in shorter bursts rather than playing it at home.
On Xbox One though, if you are into achievement hunting then you will not really have any difficulties with this game. The majority of the achievements are just for getting through certain levels so they are relatively easy depending on if you stick with things through to completion. I ended up getting 100% of them fairly easily and this was without actively seeking out any that may have required something specific to do.
This is not a negative as Neon Junctions is so short; it would be difficult to add much variety to any of the achievements outside what they have already done. I would just hate for people to buy this purely because of the ease around getting 100% or a Platinum Trophy because there has clearly been a genuine care put into the game by the developers; the puzzles are all well thought out and not something you will simply breeze by as there is certainly a challenge. Collecting achievements and trophies is great but you’ll want to get this game for its actual merits rather than just the ease around digital awards.
Unfortunately Neon Junctions does not really have any replayability outside of collecting any achievements you may have missed, like challenging yourself to complete a level within 10 seconds. However, for the price and for what the game is you cannot really expect too much more from it.
While Neon Junctions is relatively short and is a bit on the easy side at first, for the price that it retails at and the great soundtrack included, I feel this game is perfect for anyone looking to get into the puzzle game genre. It may be better suited to those of you who own the Switch and wish to play on a commute but it is still a lovely experience at home. I do hope there is the chance to see some added DLC or for something similar to arrive in the future, for Neon Junctions has given me that puzzle bug again!