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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Developer: Flying Oak Games
Release Date: Sept. 8, 2017

About David Silbert

I'm a recent college graduate from Boston, MA. When I'm not writing for WorthPlaying, I'm probably researching Celtics trade rumors or struggling to keep up with the growing library on my Nintendo Switch.


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Switch Review - 'Neurovoider'

by David Silbert on Nov. 20, 2017 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

NeuroVoider is a twin-stick shooter RPG set in a cyber futuristic world about brains shooting around evil robots with nuclear rocket launchers.

Buy Neurovoider

The modern roguelike has quickly become one of the most popular genres for today's indie titles. Games like The Binding of Isaac, Darkest Dungeon and Spelunky task players with exploring procedurally generated dungeons where no two playthroughs are alike. These experiences are primarily solo affairs, focusing on themes of dread, isolation and vulnerability. They also tend to scale in difficulty and last indefinitely, with "game over" an inevitable and ever-present likelihood.

Neurovoider eschews many of these traditional roguelike elements. While keeping with the genre's randomized level patterns, the game features an unprecedented level of customization and player choice that rewards thoughtfulness with satisfying progression. It also offers several points of entry, from multiple difficulties to a two- to four-player cooperative mode that makes dungeon crawling a joint effort. The result is one of the most engaging, focused and inclusive roguelikes I've played in recent memory.

Neurovoider has no real story. Players begin the game as brains incubating in the tanks of a presumed laboratory — Neurovoider's form of a player-select screen. From here, the brains "break free" of their containers, and players choose from one of three basic robot classes for them to control: dash, fortress or rampage. Each of these class types offers different stats and a special ability. Dash machines come equipped with a sword and gun; a quick tap of the R shoulder button gives them a short burst of speed to evade attacks. Fortress machines are massive hulks that wield a rocket-launcher and can raise a temporary shield to block enemy gunfire. Finally, rampage machines, are medium-sized, shotgun-toting machines that can shoot rapid bursts of gunfire.

After picking a class, players select one additional skill of 27 to add to their character build. These are a mix of both passive and active traits that provide complementary abilities, such as recovering a portion of your health or slowing down time for several seconds. Then, after crafting a suitable weaponized brain-robot, players are given three initial levels to choose from — each varying in size, enemy strength, and rarity of loot — before Neurovoider finally lets players loose in its roguelike world.

Gameplay during these levels is simple and easy to grasp thanks to Neurovoider's intuitive controls. Players move their robots around a top-down battlefield with one analog stick while the other controls an aiming reticle. Either trigger fires one of two equipped weapons, while either bumper activates one of the two chosen skills. With artillery in hand, players navigate the level in search of a predetermined number of reactors that they are tasked with destroying. Doing so allows them to teleport out of the level and on to the next one, with the ultimate goal being to make it through 100% of the run's stages.

Of course, nothing is ever so simple. While some levels are straightforward, with short hallways, feeble enemies, and a single reactor to destroy, variance of these randomized layouts can lead to levels with multiple pathways, numerous reactors to find, and dangerous "elites" to fell. There are also special multiverse levels that provide added challenge and risk to the mix with the promise of greater reward, from scrap currency used to buy additional items to tokens that allow players to skip a particular level altogether.

Between various builds, levels and skills, Neurovoider puts such a heavy emphasis on player agency that you might forget it's ultimately an unpredictable, procedural experience. Add to this the collection of loot based on rarity — common, glitched, rare, special and uncommon — as well as post-level "intermission" periods that allow players to craft, equip and upgrade new weapons and armor pieces, and it'd be easy to mistake Neurovoider for a full-on role-playing game. These elements come together to create a satisfying gameplay loop of shooting, looting and rebuilding that provides a tangible sense of progression that is all too rare in roguelikes. Rather than make players feel helpless in an increasingly difficult game world, Neurovoider empowers them, giving them the tools and freedom to succeed for themselves.

Adding to this sense of freedom and choice is Neurovoider's interesting approach to game difficulty. While many roguelikes have a set difficulty level for its players, Neurovoider offers three separate ones — Arcade, Rogue and Voider — each more challenging than the last. In general, all three are tough due to the Neurovoider's procedural nature; expect to die a fair amount no matter which mode you settle on, especially during some of the brutal boss fights. In general, each difficulty offers a distinct level of challenge, ensuring that the game is accessible to genre newcomers and veterans alike.

Furthering the notion of inclusivity is Neurovoider's multiplayer functionality. Up to four friends can jump into a playthrough of the game via couch co-op, each using separate Joy-Con controllers to control their own robots. While the base game remains fundamentally the same — aside from being able to send beacons to provide teammates with your current location — the addition of multiplayer ensures that players have reason to come back to Neurovoider and conquer its numerous foes.

Another layer to Neurovoider's gameplay comes from its "custom seed" feature. Each random playthrough of the game is associated with a particular string of characters, known as a seed. SKY.14, for example, was one of many seeds that were generated during my multiple runs of the game. By inputting a seed that you've already experienced before, players can replay past playthroughs, allowing them to retry difficult segments or perfect a particular speed-run. This flexibility to play Neurovoider either as an unpredictable roguelike or a premeditated, linear experience is yet another facet of its open nature and inclusive design philosophy.

Helping to bolster Neurovoider's gameplay is its strong audiovisual presentation. Graphically, Neurovoider sports a sharp, pixel-art style with vivid colors, impressive particle effects, and beautiful explosions. Its soundtrack is even prettier, with an ominous, pulse-pounding mix of electronic synth tunes that provide soothing melodies as a supplement to the impressive action taking place on-screen.

Despite its strengths, Neurovoider isn't perfect. While procedural, the levels lack aesthetical variety; expect to play through the same ice, fire and other elemental levels over and over again, ad infinitum. I also would have liked for my health and energy meters to have been larger and more visible on the Switch's small screen, especially during some of the more hectic battles against numerous enemies. An entire health bar can be wiped in an instant, which, considering the genre, is to be expected. That said, unlike so much of the game, certain deaths felt unfair, and more a result of an unlucky level layout or enemy position than a lack of personal skill. However, to Neurovoider's credit, each death left me eager to jump back in, hone my skills, and try again.

Neurovoider is an exciting addition to the Switch library of eShop titles. Just under $14 will buy a game with surprising levels of depth and player choice. Even those apprehensive at the thought of playing a roguelike, either due to its difficulty or its unpredictability, should find plenty to like with Neurovoider. At the very least, it provides several hours of entertaining play, either solo or with friends. At best, it might prove to be your next gaming addiction.

Score: 8.5/10

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