Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review: NeuroVoider


As a huge fan of both roguelikes and twin-stick shooters NeuroVoider very quickly and easily captured my attention when it was announced for the Switch. The promise of some intense arcade-like action, loot collection, weapon variety, and putting together the robot that worked to suit your style was very appealing. Thankfully the final game has delivered on the majority of its promises, making for a pretty intense and memorable experience (one that can be even more fun with up to 3 friends). Oh, and if you plan on beating the game you’d better buckle up, because that’s not going to happen without some skill and a generous helping of luck as well.

You’ll start out every game in NeuroVoider the same way, choosing the base body for your robot between 3 general styles that amount to light and quick, heavy and hard-hitting, or somewhere in the middle. Each has its merits and I’ve often switched between them in the hopes of finding an ideal balance depending on the gear I’ve picked up over the course of a game. The second choice you make, and this can be a real game-changer, is what enhancement you want to roll with. Your options will include both active and passive skills that have a wide variety of offensive and defensive benefits but there are also ones that will affect the gear you’ll find. There’s no easy answer for what the best choice is, you’ll have to experiment to figure out which suits your style and focus best.



You’ll always start out with class-representative weapons but the great thing is that once you complete the first level all weapons are always on the table to all classes. Unlike the other elements of your bot that are tied to a specific body type, weapons are a free-for-all. So if you want to load up a bulky nuke and flame thrower on your light unit or go with a pea shooter and a melee weapon on your heavy hitter that’s up to you. Weapon selection is an area you’ll spend a lot of time and effort on, trying to figure out what combination of choices will work best for you. Even if you think you have a great weapon that works for you now within a few levels it will inevitably be obsolete and you’ll need to upgrade. On top of this you’ll need to keep a careful eye on at all times is your weapons’ rates of energy consumption. Almost more than other factor in the game that is the greatest challenge you’ll face in NeuroVoider. Sure, you’ll have hordes of enemies and brutal bosses to contend with but having the right mix of weapons that you can use to deal massive damage that won’t also be constantly overheating and leaving you vulnerable is the true key to the game.

To help you manage all of this you’ll constantly be picking up random drops of loot from your slain foes but you’ll also be able to gamble your scrap to forge new gear and hope for the best. You’ll need to reflect carefully on the choices you make for your components. While your hit points are obviously important both your energy points and the rate that your energy replenishes are also vital to take into account. The more energy and the faster it recharges will mean more sustained usage of more powerful weapons. In addition you’ll want to keep an eye on the various bonuses that can be carried with the right types of gear, adding to your mobility, or even more importantly reducing your overall energy consumption. As much as you’ll want to get right back into the action, gearing up properly is vital to your survival so hit the forge, spend some scrap, and then carefully review your options between every level.


Careful level selection can also be the difference between life and death depending on how you’re playing and what gear you have. You’ll always have a choice of 3 levels and they’ll be rated for their size, the number of elites they have, and the available level of loot. While you’ll always be tempted to go for the most loot the largest levels, especially when they’re full of elites, can be very dangerous as healing opportunities aren’t always guaranteed within the stages (some enemies will randomly drop packs that will heal you). Sometimes going smaller, even if there’s not as much promised loot, can be the best path. Do that too often, though, and you may not be able to keep your gear at pace with the increasing difficulty as you get deeper into the game. Periodically you’ll also have the option to go to a secret level in the game and how these play out can vary wildly. Sometimes it is a gauntlet of high-powered elites you’ll need to take out but other times it will be a massive swarm of smaller enemies that can in many ways be even more deadly depending on what gear you have (or they have, I’ve encountered swarms with explosive projectiles and that was ugly). In true roguelike fashion you won’t be able to predict what lies in any given level and death can sometimes come very quickly if you make a bad weapon selection and are put up against enemies that are able to overwhelm you in a variety of ways.

As much as I enjoy the game that isn’t to say there aren’t some frustrations. Particularly on larger levels it can be easy to get a bit lost and the lack of a mini map or something to help show where you’ve already been can lead to fruitless backtracking. Compounding this problem is the fact that there are visible spots in levels where you simply won’t be able to go and there are areas that look like walls you can pass through and those that you can’t. While generally there are enemies around to keep you clued in to where to go next once you’ve cleared areas it can then be harder to tell where to go. In addition, while the upgrade menus are functional they can also take some getting used to and feel cumbersome. Since upgrading is so vital to the game anything that could be done to streamline things further and reduce your time spent in menus would be greatly appreciated. Probably the biggest flaw that comes to mind is just that there’s nothing that clues you in on when your health is critically low. The majority of times that I’ve died in the game it has been sudden and without me really knowing I was in serious trouble. The lack of a clear audio or visual cue for this both forces you to try to keep an eye on your health gauge constantly and robs the game of an opportunity to create some tension as you try to hold on to your last slivers of life. Just small things but I think they’d continue to make the game better.


Aside from those very focused bits of nitpicking NeuroVoider is another roguelike I anticipate I’ll be spending a lot of time with on my Switch. Even though I’ve settled into what I believe my preferred weapon combination is I’ve continued to be either enticed or forced into changing it up in relation to the gear I find. Generally I’m not a melee guy but when you pick up a melee weapon with explosive damage you can’t help but give it a whirl every now and again. Weapons vary in range, accuracy, splash damage, and more… the fact that every few levels base weapons will begin to be more powerful than the rares you lucked into before means you’ll need to continue to take a hard look at your loadout in order to survive. From run to run I’ve gotten only a few levels in right after getting through the first few bosses so there’s just no knowing what the game will throw at you. With all of this in mind it is easy to recommend NeuroVoider to anyone looking for some satisfying and challenging action.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • A challenging and rewarding shooting action and looting loop
  • More weapon variety that you’ll typically find anywhere
  • The versatility to combine power-ups, body types, and weapons makes for extended and varied play
  • Playing with up to 3 friends can greatly increase the insanity and fun levels

Cons:
  • The lack of a mini-map to keep track of where you’ve been
  • The menus for forging and managing upgrades can be cumbersome for as much time as you’ll need to spend in them
  • The level of challenge may be too high for more casual gamers

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