Since ancient times, people have worshiped many different gods. Over the centuries, some of these religions have fallen out of popularity. It could be argued that many in modern times choose to put their time and energy into revering material things rather than the traditional idea of gods. Neon Abyss explores this concept of old gods being replaced with new objects of worship.
You play as one of several characters given the task of taking down Titan Corp, a group of powerful modern gods. To do so, you must venture into their lairs in the abyss, where you will search them out and eliminate them for your mysterious employer.
It won’t take long for you to realize that the plot of Neon Abyss is not its strongest suit. Instead, the crazy, neon-laced gameplay is what will keep players engaged and interested in taking down the Titan Corp. Further elements of the plot will be inferred as you defeat the gods, such as who your employer is, but there is not much exposition to be had in the game. Luckily, the gameplay doesn’t necessarily need a deep plot to motivate players.
It’s worth noting that the concept of new and old gods is not unique. It’s a central theme in the book (and adapted television show) American Gods. Many aspects of the premise are shared between the two, such as the modern gods representing abstract things like technology. By itself, this would make it clear that there was some influence, but you can also see references to the show in one of the starting character’s weapons being called Shadow (the name of American Gods‘ main character), with the inscription reading Wednesday (another main character). Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery, but this comes off as plainly unoriginal.
The gameplay of Neon Abyss features dungeon crawling gameplay with permanent death, making it what’s known as a roguelike (or roguelite for the sticklers). Players will venture into multi-floor dungeons over and over, collecting many items and weapons in the hopes that you’re able to find items that combine well to help you combat the enemies and bosses you find. You use keys and grenades to unlock and blow through any doors or obstacles that stand in your way, both of which are found throughout the levels you traverse. Crystals can also be found, which you need in order to open some doors, most notably shop rooms. As you defeat the game’s biggest and baddest bosses at the end of each run, called Managers, new levels are added onto each subsequent run. Additionally, a new manager becomes the end boss.
It bears pointing out that Neon Abyss is very reminiscent of other roguelite games, predominantly The Binding of Isaac. Any player who has put serious time into that game will feel right at home here, perhaps too much so. Challenge rooms, good/evil item rooms, “beggar” merchants, and pets are just a few of the elements that are functionally identical between the two games. It’s true that these are great features, and they make Neon Abyss all the more robust, but it doesn’t seem fair to give the game much credit for their inclusion when it’s all been done before. Considered alongside the other inspirations seen in the plot, some players may not feel like they’re playing something entirely new and refreshing.
Neon Abyss Bar
Before every dungeon run, you will find yourself in the Neon Abyss Bar. Here you can set difficulty (easy, normal, hard), choose your character, and spend faith gems to unlock different items/characters/rooms in the dungeon. A dance floor exists if players want to dance the night away. There is also a broken elevator and statue, two objects that have no purpose at present.
At present, there is no incentive to play on harder difficulties. However, if players complete enough runs on the Hard difficulty, they can unlock the Abyssal difficulty, which will truly put their skills to the test. Right now it would just be for bragging rights, but the developers have specified that a future update will add in the ability to receive more faith gems from bosses if beaten on higher difficulties.
While there are several characters featured in Neon Abyss, the game starts with only two of them being available. The other characters must be unlocked through spending faith gems at the bar. There are also two DLC characters that were included in early copies of the game, and are currently available for purchase at $1.99. One of these characters, Saya, is a popular choice for fans of the game.
Every character has their own strengths, such as starting with an extra grenade or more health containers. They all have their own unique starting weapons too. Players are encouraged to try runs with different characters as they unlock them to see which ones fit their playstyle.
Every dungeon run in Neon Abyss consists of multiple floors, with each floor ending in a boss fight. This style of play will be familiar if you’ve played other roguelike games. Floors are made up of various different rooms. Many are normal rooms where enemies will spawn, but there are also other types. For example, some rooms require you to battle three waves of enemies and spawn an item if you’re successful. Another type is hidden rooms, which are rooms not marked on the mini-map that you must uncover by bombing a wall at some particular area of the dungeon, usually in the room with the most rooms connected to it. There is also a shop on each floor, where you can buy pick-ups, weapons, and items. Of course, a boss room is also on every floor, easily spotted from the red-colored door and the energy emanating from it.
Several warp rooms are also found on each floor. These allow players to quickly travel to other warp rooms they’ve discovered on that floor. These are easy to distinguish from the other rooms because of their long rectangular shape.
The roster of baddies you face in Neon Abyss is comprised of many cute pixel abominations. Monsters often have patchy skin or a single eyeball. As you progress deeper into the dungeon, the enemy designs change and more dangerous varieties start to appear. The issue with enemies lies in the way they are spawned. Upon entering a room, you might have an enemy spawn directly on top of you, which is an annoying occurrence, especially on later levels when enemy damage is increased.
Bosses have interesting designs, as they are gods of modern concepts like guns and fast food. They all have attacks that players will have to memorize to efficiently battle them. There are several different bosses that you can face, and bosses faced at higher levels with spawn as more powerful versions. The boss you may encounter on floor 1 might be McTucky, which is a two-headed boss. Crossing paths with them again at a later floor would spawn McTucky Family, which features three heads to contend with, and more aggressive attacks. Each boss drops an item and a faith gem, which is the currency used to unlock items and characters at the bar.
On the last floor, you will go head to head with a manager. They are the tougher and more prominent bosses of the game. More hits and strategies are required to defeat them. Even once they’ve been vanquished, players will have to face them again every time they pass that floor on runs thereafter.
Each run has a seed code you can see on the bottom of the pause menu. This records all of the random elements of that run, such as the placement of rooms on each floor and what items are found. If you enter this code at the plinth next to the dungeon entrance outside of the bar, you can make the next run contain those same elements, which is helpful if you found a lot of great items or weapons. However, bosses will not drop faith gems in that run. For some reason though, seeds do not appear to work as intended in this game. Many of the same items can be obtained, but other aspects like the items bosses drop and some of the treasure room items will not be the same. It’s unclear if this was intended or an oversight.
By talking to the bartender at the Neon Abyss Bar, players can use faith gems obtained from defeating bosses to unlock assorted things. These include rules (new aspects added to the dungeon, like marked rocks that drop pick-ups when bombed), new types of items to find in the dungeon, and new characters to play with. As you spend more faith gems, additional unlock trees will be revealed, containing even more elements to unlock. The items tend to be decent, but some are a bit underwhelming when you consider they have to be unlocked and many of the default items you can find are far better. In addition, some of the rules are detrimental, such as heart pickups that have a high chance to take away health rather than heal. Making detrimental effects cost gems doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Items & Weapons
There is quite a variety of items players will find in their dungeon runs. These give passive benefits such as increasing gun damage, allowing flight, and many other benefits. As you obtain more along your run, you can see some good item synergies develop as their effects stack more and more. This is not always the case, as the items you find are random and not every item will benefit your playstyle. Much of the success of your run will depend on what items you obtain.
Items are predominantly found in treasure rooms and as boss fight rewards, but can also be obtained from violence or wisdom rooms, which appear to have a higher chance of containing some of the more powerful items. All items you obtain will become visible on your character in some form, and because of the variety of items in Neon Abyss, players will develop some unique looks by the end of every run.
Weapons can be found in the dungeon, each offering different attributes. Some will fire lasers or have strange shot patterns. There are several that even come with an active ability, such as enabling higher damage in the current room. These often cost a few crystals to use. Not all weapons are created equally though. Some guns are unwieldy to use and do not offer the same utility as others. Since the game has no numerical representations for damage or shot speed to consult, players need to field test the weapons to really be able to compare how useful they are. This proves to be unintuitive and if anything it discourages branching out and trying new weapons.
Players will learn to love and hate the pets of Neon Abyss. During runs, you can find egg pick-ups. These will follow behind the player through rooms, and after several rooms have been cleared, they will hatch. There is a chance that the hatching will fail, but sometimes you will obtain a pet. Many of these are beneficial, like a pet that shoots ice bullets to briefly incapacitate enemies. Others are just plain annoying.
One much-maligned pet is Kevin, a sarcastic-looking cat who will rush over to heart pickups and turn them into moldy hearts, essentially making them damaging to you a majority of the time. This is absolutely devastating late in a run, when enemies hit especially hard and health is in short supply. The Vibration Ball rotates around you blocking enemy fire, which sounds good until it rotates into your bullets and blocks those too. It even blocks grenades you throw, which is extremely aggravating as grenades tend to be a tight commodity.
Players are advised to weigh the benefits of pets before picking up any eggs they find. A majority of pets can be a reasonable help in fights, but there’s always the risk of a pet that can derail even the most optimistic dungeon runs.
Wisdom & Violence
At the bottom right of the screen, a meter can be found that measures two qualities known as Violence or Wisdom. Wisdom can be built up from using crystals to open chests, doors, and certain objects, as well as finishing enemy encounters without damage. If players instead shoot these things, they will turn red and cause damage when touched, building up Violence instead. Any damage received will also build Violence. Only Wisdom or Violence can be built-up at a time, so players should work toward using gems or not depending on which quality they want to work toward.
Once the meter is full, you can use a warp room to go to a special room detached from the other rooms on the floor. Wisdom rooms allow players to choose from one of two items, which are usually utility-based. Violence rooms require the player to sacrifice one heart from their max health, but offer three items to choose from, oftentimes featuring damage-increasing properties or even some of the better weapons in the game. The choice is up to players whether it’s worth sacrificing health to get a potentially better selection. Often the choice is entirely dependent on how your health situation is in a particular run, or if you are good at avoiding enemy fire.
The style of Neon Abyss features, not surprisingly, liberal use of neon colors and accents throughout. The dungeons are largely stone or wood, with bright colors and lights cast against the backgrounds and statues. This is a reference to the game’s mix of old gods and new. Characters, enemies, and backgrounds are all rendered in a pixel style. Some players will wish for more variety in backgrounds and locales in dungeons. After awhile, it all blends together and levels don’t really have much individuality to them.
The music in Neon Abyss will no doubt pump up players as they run and gun through dungeons. The tracks that play throughout the game are upbeat, EDM dance songs, which feature synthetic beats and thumping bass. The music mixes well with the frenetic bullet-riddled gameplay. However, there are only a small number of songs in the entire game, so some may find the tracks grating after countless runs.
Being a roguelite game, it is designed to be played repeatedly. Every run is random, so experiences will differ considerably and it will be difficult for players to be completely bored. Many dungeon runs are needed to build the skill and luck necessary to make it to the end each time. A huge amount of faith gems are needed to unlock every character and item, so even if players beat all of the managers the game has to offer, it is extremely likely they will still have countless items to unlock from the unlock trees. Assuming some incentive is added in later for playing on higher difficulties, players may also wish to try their hand at some more difficult runs.
If you liked Binding of Isaac, you’re bound to like Neon Abyss as well. It mimics many of the elements found in it, the fantastic execution of which does deserve some credit at least. The fact that it has such a different setting and style does give it an identity of its own though. Running and gunning with all of the item synergies and wild weapons is a satisfying experience. Ultimately, the game earns its place as a stimulating entry in the roguelite genre. Make no mistake though, much of the triumphs it achieves are on the shoulders of those that came before it. One hopes that the developers are able to add more content in the future that elevates the game to a more unique position in the genre.
Final Rating: 7/10.