[Review] Neon City Riders – Nintendo Switch

Written by Anna Karasik
  • Developer: Mecha Studios
  • Publisher: Bromio
  • Release Date: 12/03/20
  • Price:  £17.99 / $19.99
  • Review code provided by Bromio

Introducing: Neon City Riders Switch Review

There is a delicious X-Factor that gives us warm-fuzzies when we see retro styles adapted into modern games. A quick glance at Neon City Riders seems to check a lot of boxes. It’s an open world filled with characters to interact with, created in a classic 16-bit style. However, you’ll find that for every success in this game, there’s a heap of untapped potential.

Becoming The Unifier

“Don’t wait for things to change on their own. Make it happen.”

Four rough-and-tumble gangs are at each others’ throats, so old man Evergray recruits Rick to become a masked vigilante and unite them against a bigger enemy that’s looming. However, it’s no easy task in futuristic Neon City, where pollution has caused some people to gain superpowers. Rick was chosen because he is one such gifted individual, and at the outset of the game, we immediately get a taste of his four powers: a shield, a dash, the ability to redirect projectiles, and even the power to see into an alternate reality and spy invisible obstacles or bridges. Save for the last one, each of them can be useful both in and out of combat. 

However, just as you settle into your neat abilities, they’re stripped away and our masked hero is thrust into the thick of Neon City – the only place where all four gangs congregate peacefully to trade, socialize, and kick back. Now, Rick must prove he’s worthy of being the city’s savior by regaining his powers while he earns the respect of the gangs.

All of the lights

Exploring the bright and colorful metropolis, there are characters on every corner with something interesting to say. Talking to NPCs is a treat. Not only is their dialogue helpful and witty, but every single sprite is clearly designed with love. From androids to lizard people, each person may reveal their own personal biases, coloring in the world a little better. Some NPCs give side quests or hints, which is necessary for such an open game. The words themselves will wiggle and shine to show emphasis, too. It’s just such a shame that the English translation suffers from glaring grammatical errors. I’m also personally not a fan of the fact that many dialogue boxes have a constant strobing effect. (Please take this game’s epilepsy warning seriously if that applies to you – and if not, maybe still take some painkillers for good measure.)

So, after speaking to some citizens, Rick will get conflicting information about which of the four gangs he should take care of first. Ultimately, you come to realize that you can engage them in any order you wish. You can even stop mid-way through one area if you get stuck, and start progressing in another. (I honestly did this sometimes just to change up the repetitive music.) Be wary that there’s no handy way to refresh yourself on the progress thus far, if you happen to put this game down for a while. 

From the forest in the West to the burning wasteland in the North, each gang’s territory will feature a main fetch quest that needs to be completed before fighting the gang leader. Since Rick is now without his powers, though, there are a lot of inaccessible areas that need to be revisited. There is a feature in the map menu which aims to help with that, letting you mark blocks with colors, but it’s not very useful at all – in fact, the map can be pretty confusing. Each “block” represents an entire room, which can be huge, and it shows no lasting indicator of where Rick is currently standing. 

We’re gonna rumble tonight

Gang members agree to lay down their arms within the confines of Neon City, but once you enter one of the four territories, it’s all about survival. Now that his powers are gone, Rick has no choice but to just dodge around and whack his enemies in the beginning of the game. Sure, it introduces a level of difficulty, but it’s a big letdown after we just got teased with a taste of endgame combat in the tutorial. 

There is a decent variety in the enemies you’ll encounter for each area, and it’s easy to learn their patterns. The difficulty arises when several baddies are trying to wail on poor, powerless Rick, who’s sprinting around for dear life with nothing but a wrench. Once he gains powers, things get more interesting: if you manage your stamina well, you can easily dodge area attacks, or zoom over to stunned enemies to deal some quick damage. Reflecting projectiles takes some finesse to master with the positioning and the its two-button command, so ultimately that power becomes more trouble than it’s worth. Bosses, while cool-looking, are very predictable in combat – so after a few runs of memorizing their moves, it ends up being an underwhelming experience.

When the going gets tough, Rick can heal using junk food. Whether it’s a rotten chicken leg or a can or orange soda, everything acts the same by fully healing Rick for the low, low cost of five coins. So go ahead, eat that 100th hamburger, and feel good about it. 

Déjà vu

If you reach zero hearts, Rick returns to the last save. The game autosaves between distinct rooms, and when Rick smacks a punching bag. Here’s where my biggest complaint comes in: the uneven placement of save points.

As I just highlighted, staying alive in a horde of enemies can be difficult. Now, try balancing that with deadly platforming obstacles: electricity, turrets, conveniently-placed holes in the floor, and the like. While combat and platforming aren’t too difficult on their own here, they’re difficult to balance in this game. Many puzzle sequences take several carefully-timed steps that all occur in the same room, and everything is reset if Rick dies. His powers can do wonders to keep him alive in a pinch, but nothing can heal your broken heart after you’ve nearly completed a five-minute puzzle sequence for the 29th time, only to die again at the home stretch.

A mixed bag

A lot of players will be drawn to Neon City Riders because of its inspired art style alone. It offers tons of nostalgic elements coupled with the promise of a fresh adventure in an open world. Upon closer inspection, the maps are emptier than they appear, with an army of lovable NPCs being this game’s saving grace. Combat ranges from lackluster to enjoyable depending on your progression, but with so many hazards in Rick’s way, the imbalanced placement of save locations is a huge sticking point. 

Although the game’s story isn’t very deep, it’s a satisfying and memorable ride. I was pleased to see that the ending isn’t abrupt and vague, but rather, after all of that grinding, the player gets an explanation and a sort of “and they all lived happily ever after… or did they?” moment. Although there’s no incentive to replay this game, Mexican indie Developer Mecha Studios treated us to a prequel. The free browser game Evergray’s Quest [Spoilers inside!] is a little cherry on top for players who see Rick’s journey through to the end. 

Pros

  • Colorful, detailed 16-bit graphics
  • Funny and helpful dialogue
  • Open world

Cons

  • Limited combat options at beginning
  • Uneven placement of save points
  • Repetitive music

Verdict

While it’s clear that Neon City Riders was made with love, from the attractive 16-bit graphics to the NPCs, the experience is disrupted by early-game limitations and uneven save points.

3/5

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