Time Polished: 50 Minutes
Sponsored By: Zoso
Now this is more like it!
When I was a kid, I had a lot of Nintendo games. This was because I got my NES just after the SNES was announced, so NES tapes (as we called them, for some reason lost to antiquity) were cheaper and easily gotten on my allowance.
Astute readers will identify this situation as a "person of interest" in the search for the origin of my status as an aggressively late adopter. Non-astute readers will still be wondering what astute means – to them I will answer: It’s a kind of greenish purple.
It was an era of a million side-scrolling platformers, and about seven good ones. (Three of those I owned, along with a dozen of the others.
Astute readers will also identify a potential spawn point for my love of unloved games. Non-astute readers are probably still working out my last joke.
One of those was a game called Werewolf, which was in fact the second game I ever got for my NES (the first being the pack-in with Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt).
I recall quite distinctly the moment when I asked for Werewolf, because my father looked at it and said it was "another Mario game."
At the time, this rankled, but with a few decades of gaming under my belt I can honestly say the man had a point. Good grief, a lot of those games back then were the same as a lot of the other games.
Which brings us to Neon Chrome. Superficially, it’s not very different from Crimsonland, Crispy Chicken or I Am Weapon. You look at your main character’s bald spot and use one joystick to aim and the other to move. There are a lot of enemies who die messily at the muzzle of whatever weapon you’re wielding. Sure, the settings differ, but it’s all basically grayish-brown splashed with red. What’s the difference?
The difference is all the implementation. Movement speed, weapon power, enemy density: All of these things must be balanced properly or the top-down experience falls flat. Crimsonland had good movement speed and satisfying weapon power, of which Crispy Chicken had neither. I Am Weapon fell squarely into the Meh category on controls, even though enemy and environment design got a fully-enthusiastic thumbs up from the part of me that’s forever 13 years old and thinks it’s not a shirt if it doesn’t have a skull on it.
So where does a game like Neon Chrome fit into the continuum? The weapons are on the weak side, but the levels are designed around it. Also, it’s a roguelike with permanent upgrades, which means weapon power is only an issue in the early game. The magazine size is less pleasing to me, but it’s more than offset by the fact that my character has an unlimited number of magazines. I’m fine with being forced to play a top-down shooter tactically, but making me care about my supply lines negates the whole reason I play top-down shooters in the first place. If I wanted to enforce fire discipline, I’d play a game with better aiming mechanics. Top-down shooters are for when I just want to hold down the trigger and not let up until every enemy is dead, or I am.
So, mechanically, it’s not quite as good as Crimsonland, but it’s head and shoulders above Crispy Chicken and beats out I Am Weapon by a clown’s whisper. That’s pretty good for a game in a genre that’s as crowded as this one is.
Aesthetically, the question becomes more complicated. I think we can all agree that it looks better than Crispy Chicken, but it has less style than I Am Weapon (YMMVATYTFSC*). It’s on par with Crimsonland in that it has a somewhat generic style, but it’s a good-looking generic style, kind of like Trader Joe’s. You’re here to shoot futuristic soldiers. Here are some futuristic soldiers that look like futuristic soldiers, which are also free of gluten and preservatives. Also their bananas cost twice as much and spoil in half the time.
Keep On keepin’ on?
Neon Chrome is a competently executed top-down shooter with character progression. It is not exciting, but it is fun and I can see myself returning to it sometime when I am less busy and, potentially, less burnt out on top-down shooters.
Yes, I will keep playing. No, not right now.
Is it the Dark Souls of Top-Down Shooters?
No. It’s challenging, but it isn’t breaking any sweat trying to confound the player. At worst the game will overwhelm you with enemies, which isn’t clever enough to reach the Souls Pinnacle. For a proper example of what a Dark Souls of top-down shooters would look like, try Hotline Miami, both because it is punishingly difficulty and also because it is not, technically, a shooter.
*Your Mileage May Vary According To Your Tolerance For Scary Clowns.