From the get-go, Neon Abyss might not wow you with its uniqueness but it does do some nice things to change up the usual formula. Grab a little Binding of Isaac, a little Rogue Legacy, and a pinch of Cyberpunk and you have Neon Abyss. If this sounds up your alley, you’re in for a nice treat.
Neon Abyss opens, as the name suggests, with a lot of neon and an abyss. After progressing past the simple boot up title menu, you are situated in a bar with a rather ominous man sitting across from you. Hades, as an enemy of your enemy, promises you “revenge” with the drink in front of you. Needless to say, you take a mighty swig and are introduced to the world.
This is done by sinking you deep into an abyss, only to land with a gun in your hand, a grenade in the other and a few hearts to your name. The hearts are your basic health system, each representing two hits you can take in combat. These can be replenished by finding additional hearts throughout levels. Once they all drop, you die and must start over.
The grenades can be used to attack enemies, destroy rocks or access secret levels. Any keys you find through the floors can then themselves be used on locked chests and doors. And then finally, you must take stock of your items. For the most part, these are the small variable numbers you must keep your eye on throughout Neon Abyss. Should you use the grenade on a possible secret level now or save it for a hard boss? Is it worth using the key on a chest, or would it be better spent getting you into a shop? This, like many other roguelites, it is what keeps Neon Abyss interesting. The small forms of micromanagement you must action to survive make you feel like you’re on a constant path of progression.
Speaking of progression, this is something Neon Abyss has in most aspects. You can change out guns throughout your run for max firepower or you can pick up passive abilities through the use of items, much like you would do in Binding of Isaac. These items can deliver things like increasing your firepower or more interesting aspects like providing access to an electrified melee or flying ability. Although Neon Abyss takes pretty clear inspiration from the indie titles that have come before it, there is a great attempt to distance itself in small ways.
The combat is one of these, taking the form of a twin-stick shooter with platforming elements – think somewhere between Rogue Legacy and Exit the Gungeon. You can jump, descend, and move whilst shooting, often employing a run and gun feel. However, whilst its melee system makes it stand out, it can be rather annoying at times. Enemies do not instantly damage you when you touch them like in most games. Instead, they opt for a choreographed attack pattern. This means you can move in between attacks swiftly, especially when you learn what each enemy is about. This is a nice addition that adds another layer of skill but your character automatically melees foes when close enough. This works fine if you have a semi-automatic weapon but actively works against you when you have a minigun – a weapon that takes time to increase its DPS. If there was a way of turning off melee, instead utilising a manual button, combat in Neon Abyss would flow better at points.
Unfortunately, this is something Neon Abyss does a little too often. It has a rather charming egg system where you can find eggs that sometimes randomly hatch to create a follower. This is a nice addition, adding a more random feel to each run, but there is no way of cancelling eggs or getting rid of them – except for via one Pokemon trainer-style character. This means you can accidentally pick up eggs that hatch into a character that destroys your current build and you can’t get rid of them. Two particularly bad ones are the follower who picks up all coins and occasionally drops items and another who replaces all hearts with mouldy hearts – a heart that has the chance to hurt you. The followers also move impossibly fast and through walls so you often won’t outrun them. I’ve been starved of all hearts for almost entire runs based on what is essentially RNG.
As well as systems and abilities within each run, there is an upgrade path that can be accessed in between runs. Neon Abyss has you attempt to take on five main bosses, each of which has a set amount of levels you must make your way through, ending in a smaller boss at the end of each floor. After successfully killing a boss, you pick up an item, with these then able to be exchanged for new abilities, rooms and characters to further amend upcoming runs. A personal favourite is the piano room that plays a song that you must mimic by jumping on a piano. If you do it correctly, you earn a nice permanent ability for your current run.
Runs are also changed by a morality system of sorts. Not getting hit in rooms and unlocking things the proper way unlocks wisdom, whereas the opposite earns violence. Maxing one of these out opens a new room on your current floor. Wisdom allows you to pick one of two items. Violence gives you a choice of three but you must permanently sacrifice one heart to do so. The stat restarts after visiting the room and can be maxed out again, but it’s another nice little touch to Neon Abyss.
This is a good representation of Neon Abyss as a whole. There is a constant progression to it as you unlock new floors, items, and generally find your skills evolving as you get better. Whilst there are some minor issues and it could do more to feel unique, maxing out the next stat or room is always worth it. Neon Abyss on Xbox One is a very solid entry to the roguelite genre and a worthy successor to the likes of Binding of Isaac, Enter The Gungeon, and Rogue Legacy that came before it.