Twin stick roguelike. My love, my passion, my hate, my fear. This is a genre that has positively exploded in the last decade or so, going from widely unknown and rather cartoonish (looking at you, Halfbrick) to something that was a huge industry of people bringing the best of the best experiences to different platforms. The Binding of Isaac, Nuclear Throne and Enter the Gungeon are all shining examples, with one already a top seller on the Switch and the other coming soon. When done properly, it’s a game that can really take all of your free time as you seek and strive to unlock more and more, going further and further in your attempts to reach the core boss or villain. Sometimes it’s weeks of playing that culminates into a single successful run. Sometimes you simply get lucky with drops and it’s a breeze. But it’s all a matter of time and dedication, and NeuroVoider is certainly no exception.
NeuroVoider puts you, initially, into the role of a brain in a jar, who breaks free and hops into the nearest robotic vessel. The AI you encounter is cajoling you into going and fighting against the ship, and it’s not a well kept secret that this might actually be a very nefarious plan. Nevertheless, you choose one of three droids (Dash, Rampage or Fortress) and set out on a multi-layered journey to the center of the ship. Along the way, the security system isn’t too fond of your quest for destruction and will throw any and everything at you to stop it. The path isn’t always the same, either, as each level gives you multiple choices as to what kind of terrain you’d like to fight on. Each has a difference in size, loot and Elites, which are bigger, meaner versions of the enemies that will definitely put you into pain. Oh, and, like most proper roguelikes, this is permadeath. Screw up and you’re starting from the very beginning.
Out the gate, I love and adore NeuroVoider’s art style . It’s what I like to call dirty pixel art, or finely done, 8-16 bit inspired with a seriously dark tone thrown over everything. The darkness only helps make the constant appearance of neon colors pop even harder, which is necessary, as you’ll have your fair share of shadows to contend with throughout. When there are drops from enemies, they shine like beacons without being too gaudy, and a player can’t help but be drawn to them. Each of the smaller enemy droids are properly crafted, with the Elite’s looking like steroid infused versions of their smaller brethren. And when you reach the bosses, and there are several, they have the right size and personality to call them legitimate boss figures. The very first one I encountered was a massive, wavy train of a bot who took up the upper half of the screen and rained hellfire upon me constantly. Destroying him was not an easy feat, and every segment I destroyed exploded in a grandiose fashion, leaving behind a ruined skeleton. It really looks awesome.
The robot choice in NeuroVoider is an important one for your opening levels, but don’t let your initial selection define how you progress for the rest of the game. In fact, plan on changing classes at least once in order to successfully make it to the end in any shape to fight and win. The three starters are all variants of classic forms (speed, strength and defense, as you could have guessed), and new upgrades to your ship are dropped from both Elite enemies and random boxes as well. The upgrades will have a ton of affect on your craft, usually with tradeoffs between positives and negatives. Your core, for example, can upgrade to have more HP, EP recharge (which is the energy needed to fire your gun) and overheat protection (how fast your EP depletes). Finding an item that upgrades everything positive is like finding the ideal piece of loot in any dungeon crawling RPG, which is to say rare and a frigging unicorn experience. It also makes the entire roguelike all the more impressive, because, instead of just finding the same kind of items as they generate, you end up with a mashup of items every single time, and, more often than not, when you finally find the right item it’s for a different class. At which point, if you can, you may decide to change what kind of robot you are (and thus changing your inherent special ability) and possibly losing other items you have equipt in favor of this one new piece. It’s a damn ordeal to decide between levels, because you have no idea what’s around the corner.
As for the controls themselves, NeuroVoider certainly has their head on straight with mapping things out to the Switch. Gun control is designated to the Z switches, with the right shoulder button being the activator for your craft-specific ability and the left being for a selected bonus ability at the start. I would argue not all the abilities are as worth while, as the teleport was never something I felt like was a good use of my time: I could just run away. A one-time heal, however, or the static shock that paralyzed all enemies for a precious couple of seconds, those were invaluable. Aiming with the right stick while piloting with the left was pretty well balanced, and I didn’t feel like my shots were going awry. I do argue that the melee weapons, though plenty strong, are goddamn WORTHLESS. Although excellent for killing Elites, the speed at which minor enemies descended upon me and tore me to scrap was shocking while I was flailing about with an energy sword. Give me a rapid fire, long range attack any day. You get into a groove and, if you’ve played any long-distance roguelike (Throne especially), you’ll be pretty comfortable in getting set up.
You also have the choice of difficulty levels, and I strongly recommend avoiding the casual unless you are a truly green person at twin stick shooters. The enemies aren’t necessarily harder, but the drops felt way more available and it removed some of the strategy. I can’t feel like I need to be especially careful at a boss fight when every minor enemy I smoosh drops a HP+ and heals my janky ass back up, and then I just feel silly that there’s any danger whatsoever. Do the NeuroVoider standard difficulty so that you feel the oppressive weight of impending death when you’re agonizing over whether to take a smaller world with no loot or a massive floor with tons of Elites. But, as the game points out, if you skip worlds it will lower the difficulty for you, so don’t feel like everything is one note the whole way through.
Just as an aside for some people, there is a level where everything is in total darkness, but even NeuroVoider doesn’t want you to feel totally hopeless. Enemies are still indicated off screen by warning triangles and signs, so, without seeing them, you can still fire wildly and pick them off before they even appear. Maybe a little cheap, but I appreciated it, and it further cemented my “screw melee weapons” attitude.
All in all, NeuroVoider is an excellent twin stick roguelike. The Switch is the ultimate portable indie machine, and polished ports like this one show how much fun and how engaging the right titles are even if they’ve long been available on the PC. You have a game with a pretty long playtime, tons of replay value and it can easily be picked up or put down between levels for future shooting. If you’ve never tried the genre before, this is an incredibly quality entry and I would put it up there way ahead of Deathstate, and I frankly liked it better than Gungeon. You won’t be sorry for the time you put in trying to push your brain to be the best force of destruction it can be.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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