STAFF REVIEW of NeuroVoider (Xbox One)

Thursday, April 13, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

NeuroVoider Box art I absolutely love twin stick shooters, as for rogue-lite games though, they need to stand out for me to really enjoy them, as I usually find permadeath somewhat off-putting. There are exceptions to this rule for me though, and it seems that Flying Oak Games has crafted an engaging and fun rogue-lite twin stick shooter that hooked me from the first time I played their latest release, Neurovoider.

The thing about rogue-lite games, at least for me, is that I usually become frustrated with permadeath in games, as I don’t find losing all my progress, and having to restart and grind to get it back, that enjoyable. Somehow though Neurovoider has remedied this either with its constant flow of loot upgrades or its brilliant nemesis system. Even when I died and had to restart I never become frustrated, which speaks volumes.

Normally games like these aren’t known for their compelling storytelling and narrative, and it’s no different with Neurovoider either. There is a story, something about robot partying on planet earth, but you’re just a brain that busts out of its tube and into a robot exosuit in an effort to put a stop to it. Don’t worry, I’m just as confused as you, but at least there’s some sort of reasoning behind your actions.

What makes Neurovoider shine is its' mechanics and gameplay. Everything in the game is essentially procedurally generated, meaning that all the levels, loot and even the enemies are all random, meaning that you’ll never play the same level twice. You begin by choosing one of three main exosuits to pilot, each of which have their own strengths, weaknesses and abilities to suit your preferred play style.

The 3 classes of the exosuits are Dash (very fast and can dash in directions, but low stats), Rampage (decent stats and can boost his attack) and Fortress (high energy and health, but very slow and can make a bubble shield). Each of these exosuits match different types of play, though I tended to favor Dash by a large margin, as you need to stay alive at all times, and dashing away is the easiest way to do so.

There are 5 stages, each of which are broken into 5 levels, and while that may not sound like much, keep in mind that the game becomes progressively more challenging. There are bosses at the end of each stage that will require some serious twin stick skills to survive. The majority of the levels simply require you to destroy core reactors before you can progress, but you can continue to explore the levels if you want to earn more loot from vanquished enemies.

At the beginning of each stage you’re given a choice of 3 different levels (save for boss fights), each being a different size, while the number of elite enemies and loot is randomized. So you can choose to play the shorter and easier levels, but the longer and more difficult ones will yield better loot that you can equip between each stage. There are miscellaneous random levels that have special objectives, like simply get to the end of it, but you’ll have to survive the hordes of MANY enemies. There are others as well, but I don’t want to spoil them, as they are quite entertaining, challenging and a great change of pace.

Like any twin stick shooter, you control your movement with the Left Stick and aim with the Right. The triggers control your left and right weapons, which vary depending on what you decide to equip. Gameplay will drastically change depending on your loadout and you’ll need to constantly upgrade and swap parts and weapons to keep up with the enemies in each level. This is easy to do though as you’ll have a stash of loot to sift through between levels and always have upgrades to choose from for the most part.

Loot drops from nearly every enemy and it varies in rarity, all the way up to the best ‘glitched’ weapons that are the most powerful in the game. Each item can be upgraded (boosted) up to 5 times and it will add longevity to it, but it will cost you credits to do so. There are 3 different parts for your robot (body, head, and legs), each of which will be upgraded as you progress and find better parts. These parts don’t drop nearly as much as the weapons do, so when you get an upgrade make sure to boost it to have to last longer.

There’s no shortage of regular enemies that generally take one or two hits depending on your weapon, but there are some nasty elite enemies too and they can wreak havoc on your plans. Some of these enemies are borderline unfair and can one-shot you if they have a nasty weapon equipped. This is where you’ll learn the rogue-like elements to the game, but what I didn’t expect was the nemesis system, which will basically be waiting for you in the same level in the next game, conveniently carrying your loot should you defeat him.

Once you get the hang of the elites and the gameplay, get ready to die again when you reach the bosses, as they are no joke. Multiple enemies spawn during a boss fight, so you need to avoid the bosses fire along with taking care of the never ending minions that shoot at you as well. On the harder difficulty levels these boss fights will take some serious skill to beat.

When you’re sifting through your loot it will take some time for you to get used to properly navigate the menus. It’s a little convoluted and busy for my liking, but once you’ve done it a few times you’ll get the hang of scrapping unwanted items for more credits or boosting items without pressing the wrong button. The best part about this menu though is that you can look at every item, see what stats are upgraded, and even see how each weapon will fire and its usage of energy per second.

While I love that Neurovoider throws loot at you on a constant basis, a good portion of your gameplay will actually be staring at the intermission menu between levels going through all your loot, simply because there’s so much, almost feeling like a chore. Eventually you’ll learn the tricks, like selling items that aren’t for your class quickly, but it takes a few playthroughs to become proficient at it. You’ll also eventually learn what kinds of weapons you prefer, be it rapid fire guns, flame throwers, bio weapons, rail guns, lasers, electricity, and tons more. Given that loot is procedurally generated you’ll always have some surprises to try out.

I haven’t even gotten to the best part of Neurovoider yet, its' visuals and audio. Going for a retro vibe, it looks as if it’s straight from the 80’s with pseudo CRT monitor edges and a super colorful palette that’s bright and varied. The absolute best part hands down though is its soundtrack, created by Dan Terminus. Its 80’s retro synth varies from each level type and gets the blood flowing and head bobbing, sounding like it was taken straight from the 80’s. I wasn’t expecting much from an indie game soundtrack, but this one truly blew me away, so make sure to check it out on bandcamp.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started playing Neurovoider, and even though I died and had to restart many times, I never once became frustrated, always wanting to get in 'one-more-go' in the hopes of finding better loot. At the end of the day this is an awesome game for anyone that likes the mashup of the genres. Neurovoider is a challenging and gorgeous game that has addictive gameplay and an even better soundtrack.

Overall: 9.2 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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