Written By Warren C. Bennett
Developed by Tasty Poison Games
The future is dangerous. It seems no matter what happens in the next few hundred years, there will always be something that needs to be blown up. The vision of the future set forth by Tasty Poison expands on this scenario, offering Ouya owners a way to blast robots in a neon tinged wonderland. With gun in hand and helmet on head, the silent protagonist of Neon Shadow knows how to turn robots into used parts.
A Shadow Rising
There isn’t much of an actual story in Neon Shadow. The player is a mercenary that is sent to a station to help put down a rogue AI. This is a typical is a standard ‘scifi shooter’ generic, including reprogrammed robots led by a menacing station wide Artificial Intelligence. The story is told through simple text boxes at the beginning of each level and adds no real value to the game as a whole. This is an old school shooter so the story isn’t really needed. However, I always appreciate an effort put in to the underlying fiction of the universe. What is there reminded me of a very simplified version of other genre based games with stories that are more fleshed out.
There is a lot of Neon in Neon Shadow. Although the name implies a connection the Neon Corporation, owners of the space station, the visuals are what really give this FPS its moniker. This old school shooter is dipped and soaked in visuals that would be at home in any 80’s influenced dystopian science fiction flick. The vibrancy of these colors hits me in the face every time I load the game up. The developers really understood this color palate. It is easy on the eyes yet very distinctive and evokes a wonderfully nostalgic vibe. It also fits in to the whole cyberpunk genre well, since neon is used to offset the often dark subject matter.
Outside of the neon vibrancy of the world, the rest of the visuals are well constructed. The enemy design is sterile but effective and the weapons lock and load with fluidity. Although there are only a small variety of both enemies and guns, these are all modeled with a unique flare. I admire what Tasty poison had created, even if textures often look pixellated and stretched on my High Definition television.
Every product that associates itself with the cyberpunk genre must have a good soundtrack. These could be the classic orchestrated synth sound Vangelis put together for Blade Runner or the New Rock infused tones of The Matrix. Tasty Poison decided to go with a bit more techno flare, albeit one that is reminiscent of earlier cyber punk soundtracks. The composers for the music in Neon Shadow are a band previously unknown to me. Named Abducted by Sharks, this band has put out music that perfectly fits the visuals. Their tracks create an atmosphere that suggests a much deeper story than is actually presented. I don’t know if the folks at Tasty Poison contracted this band to write the music or if they just licensed the music for the game. It doesn’t really matter since the music fits the visuals like a well made digital implant.
The sounds for the game also do a capable job. The weapon sound like weapons and the enemies sound like enemies. Doors open and shut with a satisfying “you are on a space station in the future” hiss and click. The sound design isn’t exactly spectacular but it works and adds dimension to the game.
The visuals, sound and music certainly help build atmosphere for a game. The truth is that without good gameplay, all the above would just make a cool interactive demo. Neon Shadow bills itself as a shooter that hearkens back to games that laid the foundation for First Person Shooters. It does a good job in evoking games from the 90’s while being firmly planted in the present. It isn’t hard for me to picture this game along side such luminary franchises like Doom and Duke Nukem 3D. The levels are very much corridor infused mazes and the walls are littered with secrets to be found. There are boxes for multiple type of ammo while health icons can be picked up. The game really does evoke a time that seems to be long past.
There are a few flaws. The game seems to hint at more depth than can actually be found. There are only four weapons total in the entire game: A shotgun, a rifle, a grenade launcher and a plasma cannon. These work well but the lack of variety in weapon choice is noticeable. This lack of variety is also in the very low number of enemy types and the layout of the levels.
When I beat the game, I played through Neon Shadow with my brother. The couch coop splits the screen in half horizontally, with one person taking the top position and one taking the bottom. This worked out pretty well but we often found ourselves being snagged on the environment. At first we thought it was our fault and our lack of playing skill, yet it kept happening even as we became much more proficient.
The length of the game is also a bit too short. There aren’t many levels and these can be blasted through in a long afternoon. Although Neon Shadow has excellent couch based death match and coop, the online portions of the game are a bit bare. I wanted to test the Neon Shadow online multiplayer, but I couldn’t due to lack of players. I couldn’t find anyone playing the multiple times I logged on to try it out. Unfortunately, I’m sure this has more to do with the install base of the Ouya than the game itself.
A parting shot
Neon Shadow is a bit of a surprise for me. I must admit that I didn’t like the game when I first played it. I only kept trying it because it was one game I could play multiplayer with my family. My first impressions left me a tad irritated with the game movement and the dogs* that came streaming out of the doggy doors in the walls. I ended up buying the game for two dollars because of the multiplayer aspects and soon found it growing on me. I don’t think this game is as good as the products it emulates from the 90’s, but I do think it would be in the running. Since this game has fully functioning coop with both couch and online multiplayer, it is a must buy for any FPS lover that owns a Ouya.
*Dog is my name for the low, multilegged robots that attack the player with a front, horizontally mounted laser beam. I think they actually love me, like any good dog, but their love hurts. So I have to blast them to smithereens. Poor dogs.