A copy of Neon City Riders was sent to us for the purpose of this review.
Neon City Riders is a top down adventure game from developer Mecha Studios and published by Bromio, it released on March 12th 2020. In it, players assume the role of Rick, a juvenile adventurer set on ridding Neon City of its parasitic cyborg crime lords. The story is pretty barebones, and only serves as a vehicle through which the gameplay is driven. From the very first menu, the title aims to capture the player with its striking art style and presentation.
Wonky Presentation and Poor Optimization — A Cyberpunk Nightmare
The first thing that stands out upon starting Neon City Riders is the cool 8-bit art-style coupled with the humming synth tracks. It’s cool enough, and sure to scratch that insatiable itch we gamers have for that sweet sweet 80s neon aesthetic. However, in terms of the UI, the art direction went a little too far over the edge with making the game look as cyberpunk as possible.
Pausing, bringing up the map, or going to stores and vending machines bring up a horribly designed menu featuring flashing and tearing bright spots not unlike a glitched out monitor. It’s jarring, to say the least. In the worst case, it might do more than simply irritate those sensitive to flashing lights. What’s even worse is that there was no way I could discern to turn this feature off in the settings. Another UI issue came from loading my save manually rather than from the quick save slot. Doing this would trigger a glitch in which traps and obstacles would trigger a horrible screen-shaking effect whenever one went off. All of these UI issues coalesce into making the game a pain to even look at in some sections.
As far as optimization went, I played the game on PS4, and the game crashed for me no less than 5 times before I was even halfway through the first dungeon. This was doubly frustrating for the fact that the save system loads you in at the beginning of the last screen you entered, rather than the last place you manually saved your game.
Clearly Inspired Gameplay
Neon City Riders greets the player with a generous tutorial section. This section teaches the player the mode of progression implemented throughout the adventure. Neon City Riders, like Blossom Tales from developer Castle Pixel, is what I will call a Zelda-lite. It relies on the foundation set by Nintendo’s timeless franchise as base from which its core game systems are built.
Neon City Riders sees players trecking through its overworld to conquer four bosses, in four dungeons, in order to receive four abilities. The four abilities act analogous to the three or so macguffins that need to be tracked down in every Zelda game. They also serve as keys to progress further into the world. There’s even a trading sidequest that runs parallel to the main quest, clearly inspired by the one featured in Link’s Awakening. Unfortunately, the best parts of Neon City Riders are the parts which it borrows from its betters. And even then, the game fails at implementing them well.
Gameplay Leaves Much to be Desired
Firstly, the dungeons are all exercises in patience and frustration. They start with a gimmick that’s actually cool to play with and work around. The first dungeon sees the player navigating heat-seeking missiles through traps and enemies as a means to blow down doors and proceed further in. It was a really cool and creative mechanic the first time, but as the challenges increased to add more obstacles, it became less fun and more frustrating. This is compounded by the fact that if the player is caught on a single obstacle, the game sends them right back to the beginning of the room. These rooms are absolutely sprawling, and oftentimes feature multiple instances of the same gimmick. Getting caught by an obstacle forces the player to do it all again. This is excepting the rare case that you find a punching bag which acts as a checkpoint.
Adding to this frustration is a general sense of obtuseness that came from the poor level design. The dungeons are simple enough to navigate at first, but the game lacks a proper compass or map system. Dungeons went from relatively simple affairs to veritable mazes the further in I traveled. A slew of doors, switches and enemies are all I had to orient myself as I kept getting sent back to the beginning of screens for having stumbled into some trap or obstacle. It all comes together to create an experience that is decidedly not fun at all.
There isn’t much to say about combat in this game. Fighting is almost as dull an experience as dungeoneering. This is a shame since the tutorial led me to believe that I would come across more enemies with interesting patterns as the game opened up. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Striking during a wind up animation or waiting for an attack animation is enough to dispatch most foes. The lack of variety in enemy behavior makes combat encounters feel just as much of a chore as navigating obstacles, if not moreso.
A Stylish Adventure that Misses the Mark
Neon City Riders is a title that, on the surface, seems content to settle into the indie niche of 80s aesthetic. However, beyond that veneer is a game that carries ambitions that aim to set itself apart from its contemporaries. These ambitions don’t always pan out — and I occasionally came across some glaring flaws in its gameplay, UI, and optimization. One can’t help but wonder if more time in the oven would have resulted in a more cohesive product.
So that was our Neon City Riders review! Have you played the game? If so why don’t you tell us about it in the comments. You can find all our other reviews right here! As always, thanks for reading COG!
- THE GOOD
- Great artstyle and music – the retro presentation complements both the world and the gameplay.
- Mecha Studios makes a valiant attempt at translating the Zelda formula into Neon City Riders’ cyberpunk setting. The straightforward tutorial does a fine job at preparing players who are unfamiliar with the style of progression.
- THE BAD
- Leans too heavily on its Zelda roots with no deviation or innovation – however slight – in the formula. Combat is dull. The environmental puzzles do little to make exploration more interesting or engaging.
- Poorly executed UI design made the game hard to look at at some points and may even be accessibility issue for some players.
- Frequent crashes throughout my playthrough on PlayStation 4