Developer: Norain Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Arcade, Action, Puzzle & First Person
Release Date: 15th of March, 2018 (EU & NA)
Get ready to be mesmerized by neon colors and pulsating beats in this clever and brain taxing puzzler!
If you’ve been looking for an 80’s/early 90’s TRON inspired, rave party title to play on the Nintendo Switch, look no further than developer Norain Games eclectic puzzle/shooter Neonwall. The experience will test your brain reflexes in ways you didn’t even think were possible. Mixing music genres such as synthwave and electronica in a cornucopia of colorful neon-tinged lights and lasers, has never looked so good. The question is, does Neonwall have the gameplay chops underneath its enticing exterior?
Neonwall starts out with you the player going into a retro styled arcade (with a nice call-back using a cabinet for Jandusoft’s title, Caveman Warriors) and deciding to play a game of Pinwall, a simple version of pinball. Unbeknownst to the player, a lightning strike causes you to be sucked into the pinball table, which immediately causes the view to change perspectives and now it’s not just about playing pinball. In order to survive, you must use fast reflexes and good aim to guide a ball down a neon-lit pathway with many obstacles and hazards in your path.
To complete over 30 challenging puzzles, you must be skillful, fast, and precise, but above all else, have a lot of patience. The mechanics are simple to learn, but difficult to master and your brain will no doubt receive one of the biggest workouts in its life while executing the right combinations and at the right time. You primarily use to shoulder buttons to change the ball color to match the blocks it’s currently touching and use your color blasters to destroy and move hazards out of the path of the balls. There are only three colors to deal with: blue, green, and red, but don’t expect this to be a simple matching color game.
The three modes of play include Puzzle, Time Trial, and Runner. Puzzle is the easiest and does not have a set time for completing a level, but is more about the skill involved to navigate a ball through an increasingly difficult set of obstacles. Time Trial has you reach various checkpoints on the course in a certain time frame and you have four lives in order to complete the course. The final mode Runner is definitely the hardest, and in this mode, you have to make it through the entire course without dying once. As you go through the course the blocks are destroyed behind you by an electrical current, so completing the course in a fast time is a must.
A puzzle title wouldn’t be any good without solid puzzles, and thankfully Neonwall delivers this exceptionally well even if it does get on the frustrating side in the later levels. I was ready to dismiss the title when the first few stages were very easy, fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, the puzzles became extremely difficult and challenged my brain in ways that I didn’t think were possible. There is a frantic pace you have to keep up with while changing colors in order to survive, performing all this while guiding your laser gun cursor to destroy the same colored blocks and moving platforms. Sometimes I would get the colors mixed up from left and right, and this resulted in me coloring the ball in the wrong color, with it falling through the floor.
It’s this type of attention to detail that made me not become too frustrated, but always maintaining that drive to complete a particularly difficult puzzle. I realized the flaw wasn’t in the game design, but more due to my own lack of execution in delivering the commands. The simple task of navigating a ball down a linear maze became more of an obsession and made me want to achieve higher scores and complete some of the puzzles faster. While the gameplay is contagious, due to the spontaneity of color placements you will become frustrated and it’s better to just step away as Neonwall is a game to enjoy and be rewarding and should not be a chore to complete.
Immediately, the visuals have an artistic flair to them, full of neon lights that will remind you of films like TRON and other 80’s inspired futuristic media. The action all happens in a 2D plane, but the backgrounds and the ball’s interactions with the blocks provide eye candy unlike most titles with this art aesthetic. Meanwhile, the sound hits your face with heavily electronica styled frenetic melodies that perfectly accompany the action on-screen, and sound effects that bleep and chirp with the best of retro-inspired titles. Needless to say, Neonwall has an incredible amount of style for its simple premise. Also, I was impressed with the developer including an option to tone the rumble in Joycons to your liking as I feel this is a feature that is missing in most Switch titles.
Overall, Neonwall is an immediately addicting and very difficult puzzle title. On one hand, I enjoyed the challenge and couldn’t wait to come back, but on the other (hand,) I was turned off by some of the ridiculous difficulty spikes, especially when time is not on your side. Even so, the visuals, music and presentation made it a jump back into the puzzle solving madness. Neonwall features a unique puzzle-solving mechanic and is one I hope more games will try to incorporate in the future.
The Verdict: 7/10
*Review Key Provided by Jandusoft