Neonwall is a peculiar game, that much has to be said. It’s penned as a puzzle game, but in truth, it’s more about reflex and cognitive multitasking. There’s no story here, save a short introduction cutscene that shows you playing a pinball machine in the midst of a heavy storm, before being sucked into a world of neon, or seemingly, the machine itself – I couldn’t really tell. Nevertheless, once you’re transported within, you’ll instantly find yourselves at the mercy of the game’s very devious levels, and believe me, tough is an understatement.
Each level is made up of color-coordinated lanes. The player must navigate a color-changing ball across these lanes, from the starting point of each level, to the end. Controlling neither the ball itself nor the lanes that it travels along, you’ll instead be in charge of two dual-wielded guns via first-person perspective. Both of these weapons have an independent color toggle that can be activated through pressing RS/LS. Utilizing this feature will change the color of whatever weapon you toggle, which in effect, will also alter the color of the ball.
There’s a number of rules in play here. First and foremost, the ball will travel faster if its color matches the section of the lane that it’s travelling along. This comes in especially handy when you’re playing a Runner-based level, in which the level itself will start to crumble away and chase you, right up until you reach the end. Get caught up in that field of destruction and you’ll be taken back to the start of the level. The game’s campaign is broken up into level types; Runner, Puzzle and Time Trial. Puzzle is, as expected, more interactive than its peers.
Time Trial, on the other hand, sees you racing against the clock from beginning to end, with checkpoints thrown in that will grant you some additional time. Neonwall starts out relatively simple, luring players into a false sense of security as a result. The first few levels consist of little more than an introduction to the game’s mechanics and features, however, once you’re done here, prepare for neon hell. The game’s difficulty and level complexity spikes quite dramatically, which will no doubt push even the patient of players to their max.
New twists are thrown into the fields of play at a regular pace, such as colored blocks that can only be shot by a color-matching weapon, or colored platforms that, again, can only be moved and manipulated by a gun that matches that color. There’s much more to Neonwall’s complexities than that, including color-specific jump pads, color-specific lane swapping, color-specific bridges and so forth. Oftentimes, these (at times, rage inducing) mechanics are thrown at you subsequently, usually no more than within just a few seconds of one other.
Neonwall is a game that feels like soul sucking experience, but I have to admit, it’s a very rewarding game when you’ve plugged heaps of time into just one level, failed attempt after failed attempt, to eventually beat it. It’s a bitter-sweet game in this regard, but I dare say those with low patience-spans will suffer the most here. Thankfully, I’m quite a patient guy, so it was somewhat easier for me to overlook. Though, even with that in mind, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the warranty on my controller almost became very necessary.
Despite the fact that each level takes roughly two – three minutes to complete, I found myself struggling in excess of half an hour or so on certain sections. I’ll reiterate, Neonwall does a good job at feeding you into the basics of play, but after that, it’s all uphill. Try balancing the ball on a platform that you have to slowly move with your left gun, whilst shooting blocks, clearing barriers and aligning more platforms with your right gun. That, believe it or not, is one of the tamer levels that you’ll find yourselves facing off against.
Neonwall is a decent game, but this level of difficulty isn’t going to be for everyone. That much goes without saying. It doesn’t help that there’s a few technical issues to contend with too. At times I found my ball dropping into the abyss for no apparent reason whatsoever, and whilst this indeed only occurred infrequently, it was a pain in the ass. The camera is the second (and main) culprit for me though, being that it has a habit of obscuring your view of the immediate upcoming lanes, pushing the game further towards reflex than thought.
It’s at moments like this that Neonwall becomes very trial and error-like, usually costing you a life during these segments, just so you’re aware of what’s next. I’m not sure if this was a design choice or whether the developers assume that we have the cognitive response time of Superman, but it broke immersion for me. Those issues to the side, there’s really not much to scoff at here. Neonwall tends to accomplish much of what it sets out to achieve, nothing more and nothing less. If you’re a fan of reflex games and enjoy multitasking, you’ll like this.
On the visual front, Neonwall leans on, er, neon-esque designs. There’s a nice use of color throughout, with the ability to swap colors via the menu, should you have any difficulty distinguishing them apart. It would have been nice to see more animation or design in the background – or the abyss, as I call it – but in any case, Neonwall looks passable. The same can be said about the game’s soundtrack, and although it hammers a bit too much before too long, it did do a good job at sitting inline with the game’s theme and pace, to say the least.
Less of a puzzle game and more of an experience that heavily relies on reflex and cognitive multitasking, Neonwall isn’t half bad, but it’s likely only going to appeal to a very specific crowd. There’s a few technical issues to contend with and some poor camera behavior, however, credit goes to the game’s distinct originality and its constant stream of interesting gameplay mechanics.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.