The developers of Neon Caves, Force of Habit, provided the review code for this game.
Before I get into the bulk of this review, a confession- after quite a few attempts to get to grips with Neon Caves, I was about to give up. I was dreading writing this review, with the difficulty curve being so steep it was a cliff, so admitting defeat would have been a big wound to my pride. But then it clicked, the game made sense, and I started to make progress. And that feeling was one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve ever felt while playing a game, at least in a long time.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much, what is Neon Caves? At surface level, it appears to be a twin stick shooter, but no! A single, left stick will aim where you shoot, while not having direct control of where your ship goes. In fact, it’s all kind of connected, with the recoil of your bullet propelling you in the opposite direction.
This unique approach is where the challenge and personality of the game comes from. And if you end up grabbing the game, my best advice is to stick with it. The understanding of physics and strategy needed to get the hang of this game pretty much require you to unlearn everything that every other video game has taught you. Even the anchor mechanic relies on skill and accuracy to really get the most out of it, with a static position only lasting for as long as you hold a combo up.
The challenge of the game doesn’t stop at the mechanics and movement, though. Neon Caves plays out with waves of enemies, with each wave ending with you needing to collect or shoot a small amount of golden shards- failure to do so ends your game. It keeps you on your toes, splitting your attention across quite a few tasks- getting your ship in the air, making sure you don’t run into enemies, and keeping an eye on where you’re aiming. It can be overwhelming if you lose focus!
Having the leaderboards and achievements will also scratch that competitive and/or completionist itch, giving enough incentive to keep coming back, and to keep trying new things. There’s not much else you can really add without changing the core gameplay, though, other than perhaps a randomiser for each attempt.
The sheer challenge and difficulty of the game make it hard to recommend to just anybody. Getting into Neon Caves requires focused attention on the game, while that focus will be split amongst several things within the game itself. But if you have a history with twin stick shooters, this is a great way to turn everything you think you know on its head.