The indie space has been home to a wonderful second coming of indie retro titles for fans of the games of yesteryear. With development and distribution never cheaper or easier we’ve gotten a ton of great throwbacks over the last decade or so. However, sometimes a game in this style has the look and feel of these classics but lacks the care that made those games so fondly remembered in the first place. Such is the case with Neon City Riders.
It’s easy to spot the loving homages to beloved games both modern and classic, whether it be the neon fuelled techno of Hotline Miami or the Friday the 13th inspired look of the protagonist, a la Splatterhouse. While these inspirations and reference points provide enough loose nostalgia for the player to attach to, they rarely go beyond that.
Set in a futuristic city where rival gangs battle for control over territory and influence, Neon City Riders sets you as an antihero tasked with fighting the leaders of each gang in hopes of uniting the city under a more peaceful rule.
The game opens with a tutorial area that is reminiscent of Metroid Prime or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, wherein you get just enough of a taste of your full potential to get used to it before your abilities are abruptly snatched away. It’s a common enough trope but, again, it adds up to little more than that.
The gameplay sees you ebbing between close quarters combat, puzzle solving exploration, and RPG-like side quests, unlocking and exploring each of the 4 main zones as you progress. The variety this allows for is indeed novel but the fact is that each gameplay style is so simplified that it leaves something to be desired as the player progresses.
Flaws like this would be more forgivable if the world building in the game were more successful. However, the writing is loosely strung together, and the back story is unfolded so gradually that the player rarely cares what’s happening in the story either. Further, Neon City Riders is regularly punctuated by spelling and grammar mistakes that pull you out of the game the more reading you happen to be doing.
This isn’t the only technical issue either. The mechanics of the world seem to be in a state of flux that makes the logic of Neon City Riders hard to parse out. For example, a junkyard section sees you solving puzzles by leading homing missiles to targets you need destroyed. While your character hits obstacles along the way, like traps, the missiles do not. The same goes for lasers which can pass through obstacles and enemies, but not walls.
Inconsistencies like this make this game difficult to advance in, not due to genuine challenge (which, to be fair, there is plenty of) but based on simply not being able to figure out how the world of Neon City Riders operates.
Finally, the game crashed on my PlayStation 4 several times while I was playing, without warning. Since the game autosaves with each new screen the player enters, this isn’t a massive inconvenience but it does suggest, like the issues above, that maybe Neon City Riders has been launched before it was ready for prime time.
It’s not all negative, though. If you’re looking for hack and slash action with just enough strategy to keep you on your toes, you could do worse than this. Yet in an indie space as crowded as the current climate is, the competition Neon City Riders is up against makes it almost impossible for it to stand out, even with positive caveats like this.
While there was clearly love put into Neon City Riders, as Trent Reznor once sang: “Love is not enough”. Such is the case with this effort, a game lovingly built but with not enough of its own flavor to stand out or make an impression.