Neon Abyss is a side-scrolling rogue-lite shooter available on Steam, Xbox One (including game pass), PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. Joseph Pugh conducted this review on a standard Xbox One console on a variety of difficulty settings.
Neon Abyss isn’t much for story, supposedly you’re helping Hade’s boot out the new and more modern Gods from the underworld. Since a sketchy figure in a suit hands you a drink right before you plummet into the Abyss, I’m inclined to believe you’re just tripping really hard instead.
Neon Abyss is a rogue-lite where you take on randomly generated dungeons full of enemies, loot, and danger. When you kick the bucket, you respawn in the Abyss Bar; but you keep any gems you had earned.
You spend these gems to add new items to the already huge item pool, unlock new characters, dungeon room types or even rules to be applied in future dungeons. Your overall goal is to defeat the underworld’s new management.
Rooty Tooty Rainbow Shooty
The basics of Neon Abyss are simple. You aim using the right stick which also automatically shoots in the direction you’re aiming while also moving and jumping around. You can toss bombs and you occasionally have an ability you can use with one of the bumpers or triggers. Mastering the game, however, is no easy task.
The enemies you encounter within the randomly generated labyrinth are well designed and varied. They all have predictable and telegraphed attack patterns and skillfully learning to dodge them is the key to the game.
While you pick up all manner of insane offensive ordinance, the defensive concept never changes. You need to dodge attacks to win, at least until you’re an overpowered unstoppable badass.
It feels good to learn and take down a boss without taking a single hit and you will definitely feel yourself improve at the game, even easy mode isn’t a pushover and requires you to stay on your toes.
The moment to moment combat is incredibly solid and even addicting in a sort of souls like way. (Yes I made a souls comparison, wanna cry about it?)
What I mean is, the combat’s on the shallow end, all your really doing is dodging and shooting at the most basic level. You don’t have much say in the loot you acquire, you’re just along for the ride. I like games to have more player agency than what Neon Abyss offers, yet it remains fun due to the tight-knit nature and solid skill ceiling.
This is further pushed by the Wisdom and Violence system. Essentially there are crystal objects you can spend crystals on, doing so raises your wisdom. You raise it further by clearing rooms without taking damage. Shoot the crystal objects and it erases your wisdom and replaces it with violence instead.
Maxing either of them unlocks a room with a choice of loot. With Wisdom, you get a choice of two items. With violence, you get a choice of three but must sacrifice your maximum health to do so. The game clearly rewards skillful play.
Not to mention the visuals and animations are top-notch and bursting full of groovy color. The spectacle is fun to watch even if it ends up cluttered at times. The hopping electronica soundtrack is limited but fits the game and action quite well.
Spin to Win
One of the biggest selling points of Neon Abyss is the massive amount of loot. The guns are a high point, each one having often unpredictable shooting patterns, from energy boomerangs, bright lasers, or exploding fish bones. The variety is nice, fun, and interesting
Every piece of loot you pick up stacks and weapons can be modified to a crazy degree. That said, the loot is definitely quantity over quality. Most only grant slight adjustments individually and there are a lot of items that are quite similar. Some just affect the drop rate of health and shields, while others might let you double jump or fly.
New loot is one of the many pieces of the progression puzzle you can spend gems to unlock. But there is such a massive quantity of items from the outset that unlocking a new one is underwhelming, your chances of actually seeing it appear in any given dungeon is low due to the vast selection available. You do get a free trial of an item on your next run after purchasing it though.
You don’t have much say in what you find, outside of running into a shop where you can spend coins on a couple of select but still random items. In theory, the way the game is designed means you could probably get good enough to beat it with any weapon.
In practice, my best runs always worked the same way. I got some kind of souped-up laser weapon, the ability to fly and enough shields to tank damage. By then the screen was filled with so much explosive and colorful diarrhea that I could no longer see the attacks to avoid them. It is pretty yes, but it can be visually overwhelming. At the point you aren’t winning at the game, you’re just pushing buttons.
As you traverse the dungeons you will run into stone blocks, locked doors, and various objects that you can spend coins on. Bombs, keys, and coins are basically three different currencies and you almost never have enough of all of them to collect everything. Bombs destroy stone, crystals can open crystal chests, and doors; while keys open locks.
The system is a bit wonky. Bombs can be used in battle and many objects alter them, yet I could never imagine actually doing that. They are far too valuable to be used in that way. I find crystals to be similar, you can spend them to use certain abilities, but it always feels like a waste to do so.
Resource management can be a good thing, but not when it comes at the expense of using potentially fun abilities. You need the loot far more so the trade-off is never even.
An Evolving Dungeon
Every time you defeat a boss, they drop a gem. In the Abyss bar, you can spend these gems on multiple progression trees that unlock new loot, characters, rules, and dungeon rooms.
At first, my instinct was to unlock everything, I quickly learned two things. Firstly, good luck with that. Each boss only drops one gem and you need anywhere from five to fifteen and beyond to unlock each node. Secondly, that wasn’t the point.
You might not actually want everything in the tree applied to your game, this is how you evolve the dungeon to suit you. You pick what rooms, rules, and loot to add to the randomly generated pool. I for example regretted unlocking a piece of loot that dropped mines whenever I jumped. I yeeted myself more times than I care to admit using it.
In addition to loot, you can unlock a wide variety of characters that start with a different amount of health, keys, and bombs. Some of them have a unique ability, but I didn’t find them all that game-changing. You can also unlock rules, such as painted blocks that drop loot when blown up.
Notably are the dungeon rooms, especially the game rooms, they were by far my favorite. Once unlocked you would find mini-games in the dungeon. A piano, fishing, claw machine, and dance pad for example. You pay some coin and play the mini-game for loot. They are small simple mechanics but a lot of fun. I always found myself hoarding my coin to spend on them in the dungeon.
The evolving dungeon concept is quite cool, but it is also incredibly slow. Sadly the game’s repetition sets in far too early. The dungeons are samey despite being random and while the enemy variety is nice, it alone cant carry it.
The bosses are super cool and well designed but pretty much one-trick ponies. Each one only has a couple of attacks, and you have to fight these bosses over and over again to unlock anything new.
Each run can be anywhere between twenty minutes and an hour-long depending on how many stages you complete after which you might be able to purchase a single new goodie if you’re lucky.
Creepy Doll Things
Another piece of loot your will acquire are eggs. Once you find one, an egg may hatch after you clear a room. A variety of pets can be acquired in this way. I say pets, but most of them are floating doll-like creatures. Some block attacks, others shoot at enemies while, and a few might have some kind of utility.
Pets have health and can actually be killed if they are hit by to many attacks, most of them also have a death ability when they go to the creepy dollhouse in the sky. Pets are largely hit or miss. Some are genuinely useful, others are a pain. Like the cat that turns all hearts to molded ones, which may randomly hurt you when you pick them up.
Like everything, pets are completely random some can really help your run, others can really screw it depending on where your strength is. If for example, you have an item that increases your firing rate the more coins you have, but you have a pet that grabs all the coins. It hurts.
If they live long enough, some pets can evolve into stronger forms which is neat. They do contribute to the clutter however, it’s not uncommon to have a bunch of eggs or pets following you at once. It makes the chaos more difficult to track.
I Understood that Reference
Neon Abyss is so packed full of references that I’m inclined to believe nearly every item references something and I just don’t know what it is. A Cat Medallion gives your character the old gray haired Witcher look. The Kinetic Blade looks like a Covenant laser sword, while Player Two Ready slaps a familiar-looking Oasis Visor on your character.
It is a neat and often under-appreciated detail that every item affects your characters’ appearance in some way, no small feat given the astronomic amount of items in the game.
The bosses are ripe with it as well, you may meet Tik or Tok, the God of mobile videos. Sam or Sung, the God of screens, and some others that clearly reference potentially modern idols.
One pet, aptly named Grabber, bears a striking resemblance to a US president. This kind of humor is obviously hit or miss. I got a nice chuckle out of most of them when I connected the dots.
Neon Abyss is a solid if basic rogue-lite shooter. It gets repetitive far too quickly for the genre; the drip-feed of new goods is too slow,and the bosses while well designed wear out because of how much you need to encounter them.
There isn’t much player agency or choice in each run. You are basically taken for a ride where you have to shoot things. It is a thrilling ride none the less. The evolving dungeon aspect is quite cool and the guns are wacky and fun.
The combat, enemies, and bosses are all well designed and the game has a solid skill ceiling that rewards quick but careful players. The visual style is great and I’d love to see more games that aren’t afraid of colors other than brown and black.
Your mileage will vary depending on how much you enjoy the core shooting, which is indeed quite good. If the shallow nature or repetition doesn’t bother you, you could easily get your money worth in hours played. More if you wish to truly master the game.
A copy of the game was provided for Gideon’s Gaming by Team 17 for reviewing purposes.
Hey, you should totally check out my review of Streets of Rogue, another rogue-lite.
- Solid shooting mechanics that reward skill
- Visually impressive with plenty of colors
- Interesting evolving dungeon progression mechanic
- Well designed enemies and bosses
- Fun mini-games you can play for loot
- An absurd amount of items
- Fun references
- Not much player agency or ways to influence the randomness
- Items are quantity over quality
- Progression is very slow, repetition sets in quickly
- The screen can become so cluttered it’s difficult to tell what is going on
- The characters aren’t that varied
- The wonky currency system is a little bit of a downer