It may be a new year, but some things never change. Ratalaika Games are back, true to form, with another platformer. This latest release has been developed by Pickles Entertainment and is something of an eye catcher. Neon Souls bursts onto your screen in an apparent attempt to burn out your retinas with bright, splodges of colour. It will certainly grab your attention, but not necessarily in the best way.
Despite the generous use of colour, Neon Souls does not look great. In fact, it looks downright gaudy. Remember that episode of Changing Rooms where Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and the gang reveal the makeover to the homeowner, and she says it looks like an operating theatre? He was a loose cannon and should have been stopped much sooner, but that same vibe is very much at work in Neon Souls.
Let’s not forget that the game is also optimised for Xbox Series X|S. With titles such as Neon Souls I always find myself asking why. Why hold a magnifying glass over something that does not look great in the first place? The retro style attributed to these games is very much here to stay and is always going to look dated.
Anyhow, looks aside, Neon Souls is a platformer with a stripped back, simple control setup. You play as a little blob who (and here’s the gimmick) needs to paint the path to the exit portal in each level. This is achieved by double jumping and causing an explosion of colour, which will spray paint in all directions. This will then stick to, and illuminate any nearby surfaces.
The only problem with this is that unless you splat some colour every few inches, you can’t actually see where you are going. This means you’ll tumble down holes and get skewered by spikes time and time again. As a result you’ll have to remember your way through each level, which feels like a laborious and formulaic way to play. Especially for a platformer.
Jumping is really all you need to do in Neon Souls, but you’ll encounter some obstacles along the way. Rotating platforms, laser beams and patrolling neon enemies will all aim to test your reflexes. You can also wall jump, as well as leaping to clear gaps, which helps you scale heights when needed. It’s described as parkour, which you could say is being a little liberal with the truth.
In fact there’s nothing here that you won’t have seen in a platforming game a million times before. Despite an attempt to paint the action in a different light, for me Neon Souls’ unique selling point doesn’t really come off.
Given that you’re a blob, it’s fair to expect that the platforming will be a little tricky. However, the controls are very frustrating thanks to how slippy it is. Often you’ll try to land a jump, and slide right off a platform, or over-correct your manoeuvre and end up tumbling over the other side. Not only this, but you’ll need to land directly on top of enemies to take them out. And even when you do, sometimes you’ll get killed for seemingly no reason.
To compound things, Neon Souls will demand you to react and move quickly, especially in the later levels. This reveals another control issue, which is the lack of response when you hit the jump button. You can use pretty much every button on your controller, but no matter which one I tried I’d often sprint straight into a chasm and to a colourful death, which got frustrating before long.
There are fifty levels to slide through in Neon Souls, with four bosses chucked in there for good measure. They’re all very short but there is a gradual difficulty curve at play. This is when things get less enjoyable, partly because of how basic and repetitive the gameplay is. Even the boss battles are straightforward; it won’t take you long to beat them.
Once again in Neon Souls, the mistake is made of allowing the player to bag all 1000G before the game is over. This point comes after the first boss, and will leave you wondering if it’s worth playing on. After all, £4.99 for 1000G isn’t half bad at all.
Sadly, there isn’t much more to see if you do play on. As the levels grow slightly more difficult, they also become more annoying and there isn’t really any satisfaction to glean by seeing Neon Souls through to its end. Still, just be grateful that I’ve done that so you don’t have to.
Neon Souls is a run of the mill platformer that fails to stand out from the crowd. Poor controls and unimpressive visuals make it a less appealing option to those after some old school fun.
Neon Souls is available from the Xbox Store