I can’t get enough of dual-stick shooter roguelikes, but often the time and effort requirement is too much. I’m more of a gaming tourist – I want to enjoy a lot of different experiences in gaming rather than having to decdicate tons of hours to get the joy out of a single game. Thankfully, Neon Chrome ($6.99) from 10tons, adapted for mobile from PC and console, scratches that itch. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and it can be punishing, but it tones down some of the harsher parts of the roguelike-inspired genre to be more accessible up front for players who just want to enjoy a game of this type. This is a game where you can extract genuine rewards from it in the early hours, while still getting long-term challenge and satisfaction.
The concept of Neon Chrome has you trying to take down the Overseer that rules the massive Neon Chrome building. You play as a hacker who controls an asset – selected from one of three random characters with different sets of weapons and abilities – that is setting out to destroy the Overseer. You have to complete 5 chapters with several levels each, and if you die, you have to start at least from each chapter checkpoint. This isn’t a true roguelike at all, as credits you earn go toward upgrading your health, attack, luck, energy, and total enhancement slots. Yes, you can find cybernetic enhancements as you play, allowing you to get different enhancements that increase your stats or give you different abilities. But die, and you lose them, only keeping your credits and taking another shot at bringing down the Overseer.
The thing I like about Neon Chrome is the way that it’s so different from other games of its ilk. There’s something more tactical about the action and how you approach things. You don’t want to play in a reckless fashion at all since healing is tough to come by, though classes with defensive upgrades exist. Want to be stealthier? You can do that. The hacker class comes with its own rewards – literally, as there are boxes only they can open. The game doesn’t dramatically change for any one class, but that at least means that you can experiment with different classes without feeling like you’re having to adjust to a totally different experience. The game still encourages subtle ways to play with the different systems at work. You can blow up enemies by triggering explosive items near them, but you don’t have to. You can sneak up on enemies by utilizing the breakable walls…or not. You can utilize stealthy classes, but it’s not a dramatic change to the game, just changing a few situations. You might prefer a game that makes you commit to a particular play type, but Neon Chrome gives you options. It’s a rather accessible game while still remaining challenging.
Neon Chrome is the rare kind of game that I can sit back and enjoy for hours on end without worry. I often tend to play games in start and stop fits, which is great for many mobile games. But Neon Chrome, I have to pull myself away from lest I play for far too long. Perhaps it’s because of the way that the game hedges its bets. If you make progress and have a lengthy session, you don’t feel like you’re walking on a narrower and narrower tightrope, because you can return to chapter checkpoints and start over, along with the permanent upgrades that are bought incrementally with the money you get. That’s not to say that the more hardcore games don’t have their value. But the roguelike-inspired genre, however you want to debate its nomenclature, feels too centered around hardcore players.
Granted, this is why many of these games last hundreds of hours for folks. But for someone like me and many other enthusiasts, we want to get a satisfying experience out of the first few hours as well. I could see Neon Chrome having less long-term appeal than Binding of Isaac will have on mobile, or compared to something like Wayward Souls ($7.99). But that’s irrelevant: Neon Chrome gives you a lot of fun in the crucial early hours. And maybe it’s just a great stepping stone to these other games, to give players the craving for something that they can now stomach. It’s an accessible gateway drug to games that are less accessible.
Of course, part of that accessibility on mobile might be due to the modifications made to make the game work for touchscreen devices. I have played some of the PC version of Neon Chrome, and it feels a lot easier on mobile. Though, take that with a grain of salt – I got put through the ringer of the game’s mechanics on the PC version, so I came into the mobile version with some familarity. But even 10tons admits to the mobile version being easier in order to adapt the game properly. The pace is a bit slower, the game a little easier to keep up.
The auto-aim is key to why things feel a lot easier, perhaps – it can help take care of a lot of inaccuracies that you’d otherwise have. But I wonder if it’s a bit too much combined with the reduced difficulty to simulate the same experience that you’d get on other platforms. You can often just fire without thinking too much thanks to the auto-aim. I’m not complaining, because this doesn’t make the game easy by any stretch, just that it tones the difficulty down. A configurable auto-aim would be nice, as sometimes the default auto-aim right now makes it tough to hit static objects. Something that allows me a bit more control over where I’m firing to compensate for touchscreen inaccuracy versus whatever the game has now might be a nice balance, at least as a configurable setting. As it is now you do have a binary option to have auto-aim on or off, but nothing in-between.
Where the reduced difficulty really comes into play is that it makes the first runs at the Overseer a lot more efficient than they may otherwise be. Health is at a premium before you upgrade, and if it’s easier to kill enemies in order to not take damage, then longer sessions are possible. Thus, it becomes possible to get more credits and to advance the progression sooner. The issue is that you may have to deal with some of the rough learning of skills at tougher parts of the game. The trade-off is that it perhaps keeps players who would otherwise drop out of the game engaged with the experience. It’s a tough balance to combine challenge with accessibility, and I think 10tons struck a great balance here. You can have genuine fun in the first few hours where other games might be more about training and testing you than providing satisfying gameplay. Perhaps they’re more rewarding in the long-term, but short-term? Neon Chrome is the game for you.
The controls, with the aforementioned gratuitous auto-aim, generally work well. My concern with adopting Neon Chrome to mobile was that the PC version used a dual-stick control scheme with two analog sticks, and 3 action buttons: one for firing, another for the special weapon, and another for melee. There were also reload and use buttons. To simplify that all down, 10tons made the right joystick just fire when you aim. Meleeing doesn’t need to be aimed, you just tap the button and it hits whatever’s nearby, and it’s combined with the use button. This causes problems if you’re not a hacker class and you stand by a hacker crate trying to melee an enemy. Reloading gets its own button. The special weapon was a problem, but 10tons made it so that there’s an optional special weapon button, along with the ability to touch and drag from the center of the screen to aim while time freezes for some weapons. The spread shot won’t freeze as it just fires in whatever direction, but for missiles, this is rather helpful. It does kind of make the game a bit easier as you can aim rather precisely for enemies, of course. But again, you’re trading off a lot for getting this sort of game on touchscreen.
While you can continue from chapter checkpoints, I don’t recommend always starting from the latest chapter. Starting from earlier chapters allows you to net more enhancements and better weapons for fighting the Overseer when you reach it. Each chapter of the game has its own unique set of unlocks, so you’ll need to play through previous chapters, go to the optional rooms, and try to get everything you can, especially as the unlockable upgrades represent some cool new features you get for your loadouts. I suppose after a while, it might get a bit aggravating once you’ve unlocked everything to purposely start from an earlier point. Perhaps this is how the game encourages you to get better. Being smart and avoiding damage is the number one key, the upgrades just tilt the board a little more in your favor as you go along.
Neon Chrome‘s mobile adaptation is thankfully packed well with features for mobile. Not only are the controls optimized for touch, but there’s also MFi controller support. The game offers some basic visual configuration for different devices. You’ll need a most modern device to run the game on its highest settings, with low settings losing some of the gorgeous neon stlyings, but providing a smooth frame rate. It depends on what tradeoffs you’re willing to make. I do wish there was iCloud for carrying progress between iPhone and iPad. I don’t care so much about carrying over an individual session’s progress (which does save if you quit the app at the start of the room you’re in), or the credit total. But what I do want is to have my stat upgrades, unlocks, and Overseer level carry over from device to device. Also, if the game had Apple TV support, I’d love it, but considering 10tons was one of the first studios releasing games on Apple TV, if they don’t make it a priority for future releases, I get why they might stay away.
I have to say, Neon Chrome might shake out as one of my favorite games on iOS this year. I love action roguelikes, roguelites, whatever you want to call them. And Neon Chrome, between its theme and accessible structure, really clicked with me in a way few other games do. While the die-hard roguelike fans might prefer something different, those who want something with a bit more upfront for players will want to check Neon Chrome out.