I like all things neon. They remind me of seedy rainy nights walking through a city full of mystery and intrigue, like those found in an old detective film. Neon has a magical quality to it and still to this day I’ve not found out how they actually make the stuff. I think there might be wizards involved. And blood sacrifices. Yeah that sounds right.
So this new little indie game, Neonwall, embraces all things neon and puts you into a weird 1980’s world of colour and blocks that hope to test your motor skills and fry your brain into a visual overload. But does it remind of those city lights in a film noir, or is it like a cloudy winter’s day outside Blackpool’s finest amusement arcades?
There have been loads of games created that might be more suited for other consoles and modes of playing. Neonwall is available in VR and on the Nintendo Switch and I feel that the control system on both of those formats might see it come across in a much better way than it is to play on Xbox One. Maybe it’s just me and my thick hands, but straight away my biggest bugbear with Neonwall was centred around the controls.
And that is a shame because on the surface this is a neat little puzzle game that tests your skills and your brain at the same time. There isn’t really a story to speak of, but you start in an 80’s arcade and then get whisked into the actual gaming world, like in Tron, but a bit more low budget. Here you have a neon grid-like world and you have to guide a rolling ball through a number of obstacles and traps from the start of a route to the end goal. The path that the ball goes down has different colours, and it is up to you to match them up in order to keep the ball moving. For instance, things might start off red, then change to green and then to blue etc… You change all this via the use of two cursors – toggled via your left and right bumpers and moved by the thumbstick. You’ll need to change the colour of the ball to match the path, so it can move through barriers and zoom along faster in accordance with its colour. Then you start to find extra features introduced, like blasting blocks away with the triggers and it all gets a bit manic. It’s all about fast finger matching and ensuring that you never take your eyes away from the screen.
There are thirty or so levels included in Neonwall and quite quickly – from around level 6 or 7 – it starts to get frantic and you will die multiple times. It’s a real challenge to try and keep your eye on what’s in front of you, all whilst trying to snatch a crafty sneak at the path ahead so you can plan your attack in advance. All this is done with a microsecond of thought, and whether you can cope with this or not will ultimately determine whether you will enjoy this game or not. Personally speaking, I think the puzzle and skill elements work well together and are great fun; if you like a challenge then Neonwall could well be the game for you.
The problems though are big and like I said earlier this is because of the controller elements. Nothing feels fluid enough and the button configuration at times becomes very confusing, and, ultimately, not at all comfortable to play. After a while it all gets a bit familiar too; the gameplay gets samey and the difficulty spike seems to ramp up very quickly indeed. But if you can look beyond those things, at its essence, the game is a very good puzzler that really tests your reflexes and mind power. The big question though is whether it works on this console or not and I imagine that with a VR headset attached it’s perfect, even though you might need a lobotomy afterwards.
Visually and like initially mentioned, Neonwall looks like a 1980’s night club; all future fonts, neon colours and straight lines that come with a Tron inspired design. It has a nice tone and visual aesthetic, but it will never win any awards for visual excellence. It does a good solid job though and the soundtrack is rather excellent as well, with a great mix of electronic moods and futuristic beats.
Neonwall is one of those games that is fun to pick up and play, if only so you can have a quick go every now and then. It would most certainly work better on other formats away from Xbox One as the controls are, frankly, horrible at times, but there are a good few levels included, and enough puzzles to beat to warrant the price – but you should be aware that the fun will start to wane rather quickly.
Long live neon. Just.