Neon Abyss captures the essence of a good roguelike and surprises with some tricks of its own

If you believe an age-old quote from André Berthiaume, we all wear masks.

And Neon Abyss, a new roguelike published by Team 17, takes that at a base level, providing an arsenal of spectacular and intriguing face coverings with unique properties for players to wear and use.

Falling somewhere between an Enter the Gungeon and Nuclear Throne, Neon Abyss tasks you with various procedurally generated levels of increasing difficulty, each with a mini boss at the end.

You’ll contend against everything from one-eyed bats to floating octopi and some good old spiders to round things out. But as a member of the Grim Squad, your job is bigger than just minions, as you’ve also got to take down the New Gods. Should be a walk in the park with names like that….

Honestly, some of these bosses look like they’re ripped right out a Persona game with talking television sets and arms flailing about the place. But there’s also statues and floating chain monsters.

Still, even though Neon Abyss is clearly inspired by just about every roguelike on the market, it also has its own very clear and unique direction with a vibrant aesthetic, and quirky style.

Neon Abyss is a twin-stick shooter, then, letting you choose a character and abilities before each run, but interestingly the game shapes to your choices and new rooms can be added via a unique skill tree which you can progress through by spending crystals you pick up during each run.

I really love this idea, honestly. You can essentially define the run you want to have with the game, choosing to unlock things that entertain you and you have fun with. If you want to add that nifty piano room to your game, you can decide to do just that. Or not.

You’re quite limited in manoeuvrability, though, with just a jump button to your name and some melee attacks when up close. You can lob a grenade which makes for some neat action moments, though these’ll often be used to clear away debris so you can loot some treasure.

Your only other neat trick is teleporting quickly between rooms, meaning you can easily hop to the shop just before a boss or go looking for some other hidden areas in the dungeon to find extra loot.

Once you’re in the abyss, you will encounter a ton of different items and abilities which can stack, including the aforementioned masks which can do everything from produce more hearts per kill to improving rate of fire.

But perhaps most interestingly is a pets system where you gather eggs and once you beat all enemies in a room, one of them will hatch. Sometimes you’ll get nothing, other times you’ll get a random buddy to follow you until you die, providing all sorts of useful abilities, like throwing fireballs at up-close enemies.

The abyss is full of locked rooms and chests, so you’ll often have to decide which doors to open based on a bit of luck and guesswork as you’ll only have a finite amount of keys and crystals to play with. Some of the rooms are full of more enemies and hazards on the road to the boss, others can give you shops, and some can even offer something a bit more lighthearted.

It all comes together very well, with the player having plenty to think about in each run. But if they’d rather not, the game also opens itself up, allowing you to just run straight to each boss and try to fight through as quickly as possible. These pressures can especially come into play deep into a run.

Neon Abyss is really creative, fully capturing the essence of every good roguelike but also giving players something fresh and different to explore, especially with the new room combinations and egg types.

Its futuristic, neon-lit aesthetic, is often times stunning, and its pulse pounding soundtrack really gets the heart racing, but through all the noise, it does have limitations which eventually start to shine through.

It all gets a little frantic with bullets spraying all over the place, and before long, you’ll find it impossible not to take damage with so many projectiles ricocheting, covering the entire screen. Games like Gungeon have always relied on the roll so you can protect yourself, but Neon Abyss has no such luxury, save for some additional shield shards you can acquire to protect your health. That can be a bit frustrating.

I also tested this on Switch and while the game runs great for the most part, there’s also some serious slowdown, particularly before boss battles. The frame rate just seems to completely tank before you get started, and while it’s usually only for a few seconds, it happens with more regularity than I’d like.

Interestingly, as well, the end game gets really hard to unlock characters and items with some aspects locked behind boss coins, and some unlockables coming out a bit overpriced. The nature of these games is, of course, to keep doing run after run, and beating everything you can, your skillset ever improving, but if you’re in this to unlock everything, be prepared for the long haul. Not necessarily a bad thing.

I’m a fan of what’s been achieved with Neon Abyss. Let’s face it, there’s no shortage of incredible roguelikes on Switch now and to be honest, that goes against this game a little bit as it doesn’t compare to the Dead Cells and Binding of Isaac’s of this world.

Having said all of that, there’s some smart new tricks and really enjoyable gameplay to help it stand on its own two feet. Frankly, it’s among the best of the new breed I’ve played this year, so if you are in the market for a new roguelike, this is as good as any I’ve seen in recent months even if it isn’t best in class.

Neon Abyss is now available on PC, PS4, XO, and Switch

Tested on Switch

Code provided by Team 17

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