An Arcade Rhythm Game That Steps It Up a Gear
Neon Drive is an action rhythm game set in a vivid futuristic world. Each level is based around maneuvering a flashy car around barriers by zipping between four lanes. Dodging the obstacles goes in time with the fact paced rhythm of a synth infused soundtrack. If you can’t keep up with the rapid speed that the obstacles zoom at you and crash into one of them, then you are sent back to the beginning of the level and the music starts again. It’s a difficult and demanding game and perfect for gamers who want a challenge.
Neon Drive has seven different tracks to choose from, all increasing in difficulty. All the tracks have different cars, neon colors schemes and music vibes, making each one unique. The one aspect that stays constant is that they are wickedly fast, seriously difficult and unforgiving. All levels are near impossible to complete in one go (the first level is just about do-able in one or two tries) due to the swiftness and multitude of the barriers being beyond human reaction time. However, when repeating a level, the layout stays the same, allowing you to memorize the track through multiple playthroughs. There is one checkpoint per level and is always placed at the 50% mark. If you’re really hardcore, you can try the levels in difficult or insane modes where the music gets faster. There is even an ‘endurance’ option where you attempt to speed along all seven tracks uninterrupted.
For a rhythm game, you’d assume that the music would help you, but Neon Drive’s music can both help and hinder your progress. The gameplay demands that you need to be harshly on beat. If you’re even a little bit off, crashing is inevitable. But sometimes the game catches you out by having the car move against the rhythm of the strongest beat. Your fingers betray you as they automatically want to move the car on the most prominent beat of the song, and you end up crashing into a barrier. Separating your movements from the contagious music is challenging in itself.
The visuals in Neon Drive are an explosion of 80s pop icons: cool cars, sunsets, robots and cityscapes all in electric and vibrant colors. Depicting the same worlds as seen in 80s film classics Blade Runner and Tron and accompanied by the synth-wave soundtrack, Neon Drive radiates retro. Put that together with its slick and sharp visuals, and it’s a great coming together of old arcade gameplay and modern graphics. It would make your eyes melt out of your sockets if it was available on V.R.
The style isn’t the only 80s throwback; getting past the 50% checkpoint of each level reveals a different style of gameplay that refers back to old classic arcade machines games. For example, in the first level when getting half way through, the perspective shifts from third person to a top-down view of the car, changing the way you can see and avoid obstacles. Getting past the 50% checkpoint reveals a different kind of gameplay unique to that level. These surprises give a spice of variety to the obstacle-dodging mechanic and keep it interesting, if you can even get to the halfway point.
Neon Drive has had issues with its PC debut because of its difficulty. Since it made its way to Steam from iOS, there have been negative steam reviews purely due to it being frustratingly difficult. Neon Drive shares many core game mechanics with Super Hexagon; a minimalist obstacle avoiding game, arrow key movement, fast-paced, heavy beat soundtrack and brutally difficult. But what made SH’s difficulty celebrated was that it was so playable. Due to its short restart time and continuation of music, it flowed really well between attempts and made it so addictive.
Neon Drive has sacrificed some of its re-playability for staying loyal to its arcade influences. It’s frustrating to keep dying and having to listen to the same music intro fifty times, but that’s what old arcade machines where like. You had to start from the beginning, watch the same opening scenes and keep dying and trying again. They took hours of practice and dedication to master. The developers of Neon Drive have stated that they have listened to players and are developing a practice mode in the next update. This update will make Neon Drive a more approachable game whilst keeping its difficult and “brain-melting” reputation. But in this process, have they lost a little piece of homage to those 80s archaic arcade machines?