It’s no major revelation that indie game devs are continuously looking to the past to develop their ideas. As nostalgia becomes more of a successful creative element, developers are looking to make the old thing the new thing and figuring out what made the games they enjoyed so much when they were younger such a joy to play. Enter NEUROVOIDER, a shoot ‘em up (“shmup,” if you’re nasty) that takes the bullet hell concepts of classic arcade games and combines them with newer, roguelike mechanics and procedurally-generated everything to make something that is both familiar but new.
Kind of like the production slate for most film studios
In the far future, Earth has been ravaged by robots who are continuously partying. The player and up to three friends are human brains controlling robotic shells, tasked by a definitely-not-shifty golden robot with shutting the party down by blowing up the reactors and powering down the robo-festivities. Each level is procedurally-generated, with factors like size, rarity of loot, and number of elite enemies ranked from one to five. Each player chooses which level of challenge they want, the game deciding ties in the event one occurs. After every four levels, players encounter a boss, and so on and so forth until the end of the game.
Despite their brightly-colored homes, these brains apparently HATE fun
Destroying enemies earns players equipment such as guns and upgrades, which can give them more health, make them move faster, and even increase the amount of shots they can get off before their guns overheat (which can become a matter of life or death in the thick of battle). Loot is also dropped procedurally and constantly, allowing for endless permutations of parts and weapons. This makes it so that pretty much anyone can find a combo they prefer, but it might take a few levels to find anything particularly helpful for your play style. On top of all that, there are three classes of robots to choose from that come with their own perks, as well as several different special abilities that can be used with each robot. The endless possibilities and permadeath make for no two playthroughs ever being the same, which, while exciting shmup fans and hardcore gamers, can be somewhat daunting to genre newcomers.
For an intermission, there’s a LOT going on here
NEUROVOIDER’s soundtrack is made up of entirely original compositions by French synthwave artist Dan Terminus and is one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. Similar to HOTLINE MIAMI’s adrenaline-pumping synth-heavy throwbacks to the ‘80s, NEUROVOIDER provides the fresh beatz to decimate your enemies into flaming piles of scrap, or alternatively, while fleeing and spraying ammunition behind you in a blind attempt to hit something.
The only real big drawback to NEUROVOIDER is that it’s definitely not a game that you can kick back and relax in. The sheer amount of combinations of parts, classes, and specials is enough to make the heads of the uninitiated spin without factoring in the stats of each weapon and part. It doesn’t have the pick-up-and-play feel of ROCKET LEAGUE or even MARIO PARTY, which can alienate casual players. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; a game of four players can become delightfully frenetic as they lose track of which robot is theirs and the screen becomes an inferno of bullets and explosions. Though NEUROVOIDER tries to overcome this with an easier “Rogue-lite” mode, and players can dive in if they have the head for it, it really lends itself to more hardcore gamers and fans of roguelike mechanics.
The best way to dive into anything unfamiliar is headfirst
While somewhat inaccessible, NEUROVOIDER provides a satisfying and thrilling experience for hardcore gamers with somewhat of masochistic streak. The 2.5D maps and pixels hearken back to arcade games of yore, a comparison heightened by the dynamic soundtrack. The endless combination of parts, weapons, and classes, along with roguelike and procedurally-generated elements, brings a somewhat modern twist that enhances gameplay and makes it something unique. While I personally found myself dying more than I’d like to admit, I will admit that it had hooked me, and it’s easy to see groups of gamers starting their own warbands to shut down the endless robot party.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on Xbox One and PC.