INTroDUCTIONReleased two months after the original Neon Space, this sequel at first glance seems intriguing. Drawing from the same visual template as Tron, it's an addition to the maze game genre (a genre I feel has been left untapped in recent years) that promised tense action in its promotional material.
Sadly the intrigue fades away within minutes of playing Neon Space 2, a game so fundamentally flawed and utterly worthless that it's astounding to think developer Just1337 Studio released it in such a state.
If you are so inclined to purchase the game, it's available on Steam for about $1.
CONTEXTPlayers seeking a meaningful narrative or complex themes woven into gameplay would do well to turn away now. Neon Space 2 doesn't have any kind of story, characters, themes or even a clearly-stated goal.
The player pilots a tiny blue ship through a number of increasingly complex mazes in space. There is no greater characterization, no attempt to give the player's ship or the game world any degree of personality, not even a half-hearted attempt to frame the player's experience as part of some greater mission.
You fly a ship through space, trying not to die. And that's it.
GameplaySo then, I think to myself, perhaps the idea here is to let the gameplay speak for itself? If that is the case, then it does a terrible job of convincing its audience of its worth.
Neon Space 2 has the player attempt to guide their ship past various obstacles - spinning circular barriers that bounce their ship around, pink lasers that move up and down, instant-death boxes that slowly close in on the player. In theory, the idea is for the player to quickly yet carefully fly through levels. To help you, the game gives you two abilities upfront: a "Slow" power that slows time to a crawl and a "Blink" power that causes your ship to jump forward a bit.
Making use of these powers to overcome traps is key to beating several levels in the fastest time possible, to get silver and gold medals. Some levels have the player use Slow on a laser beam, then Blink through the laser to get to one of the level's blue, circular checkpoints. Others require that the player time their movements so as not to get flung into pink instant-death barriers.
Where everything goes wrong, and where the game ultimately falls apart, is in the execution of these theoretically-interesting ideas.
Turning your ship is incredibly sluggish, to the point of causing countless, senseless deaths because the player isn't able to get out of the way of a death trap in time. Further, your ship's acceleration and reverse movement are mapped to very sensitive button inputs; so much as tap them with too much pressure, and the player can end up careening into a wall. It's physically straining on one's hands to have to constantly manage slow, methodical button presses, especially when the surrounding game is built for speed and precision.
Remapping the controls to the mouse, or to a gamepad, doesn't help matters. The player's ship will still end up flying into a pink spike or a yellow spinner, time and time again. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to use Blink or Slow while also attempting to pilot the ship past obstacles. The further you manage to progress through Neon Space 2's fifty levels, the clearer it will become that these mazes are directly at odds with the nature of the controls.
What's worse, there are times when the game actively suffers glitches that prevent the player from succeeding, or worse, make completing the level an even more infuriating endeavor. For example, I had an instance where my screen went dark, and when the level resumed several laser traps had actually moved upward to block a key pathway. Other instances of the screen locking up, causing my ship to fly into death traps, were rare but not unheard of.
Whatever minor cleverness or potentially interesting ideas were applied to each level's design, they are directly undermined by the tediousness that comes with having to repeat a level constantly. And to be quite honest, in my opinion, the game's levels aren't even that clever to begin with.
Many levels hit on the same basic beats time and again, with no real shift in how the player is supposed to deal with them. The only real difference is that the game relies more and more on cheap tactics to lengthen gameplay - lasers stacked one after the other, yellow spinners that are carefully aimed at pink instant-death spinners, and all sorts of other tactics designed to frustrate more than entertain.
Neon Space 2 isn't challenging in a way that promotes careful strategy or thoughtful progression. No, this game's "challenge" comes from having to throw one's self at a wall long enough, until you give up or the wall comes down.
Sound and VisualsThe game manages to slightly impress in one regard, and that is with its soundtrack. A number of songs are available to be cycled through as the player goes through each level, and you're actually given the option to pause and play a given song at any time. The music offered draws heavily from the techno-pop scene, with energetic synthesizer-heavy tunes granting Neon Space 2 a sense of liveliness not provided elsewhere.
Visually, as previously mentioned, the game seems to be trying to evoke works like Tron with its neon colours contrasting with darker backgrounds. While the level-to-level backdrops do offer some semblance of visual splendor, they eventually all fall flat due to being mostly static images - scenes of planets and stars unmoving, with rather muted colours to boot. It adds to an overwhelming sense of detachment and disinterest that the game seems keen on working towards.
My VerdictIn my time as a reviewer and as a gamer, I don't feel as though I've found a game with such contempt for its audience. Neon Space 2 does not seem to care about entertaining the player, or offering an experience that's valuable and meaningful in other ways. It is lazy, careless, broken, tiresome, and entirely without reason to exist.
And that's a shame. It didn't have to be those things.
| + Good Soundtrack|| - Barebones Gameplay|
| - Sloppy Controls|
| - Cheap Sense of Difficulty|
| - Lack of Payoff|