Silly players should know better than to play at the arcade during a thunderstorm. There is always the off-chance that a lightning strike will teleport you inside the machine you're playing. And guess what? That's exactly what happens at the beginning of Norain Games' physics puzzle/shooting offering. Stuck inside a pinball machine there's no time to panic - you have two colour-coded pistols in your hands and the balls are already rolling. Welcome to Neonwall.
Considering the versatility of the Joy-Cons, it seems like a missed opportunity that not many publishers are using the pointer function in their games. To showcase that very same potential Neonwall now arrives on Nintendo Switch and despite not being an exclusive, it truly feels at home on Nintendo’s hybrid system.
As expected (assuming you watched ‘TRON’) inside the pinball machine a virtual world of neon constructs awaits. Each Joy-Con acts as the left and right colour gun on-screen and movement is mimicked with impressive, satisfying accuracy. This is by far the game most important gameplay feature here, so we are happy to report it works just as it should. There is nothing preventing you from playing with a Pro Controller or the Joy-Cons analogs either, but these are better reserved for tabletop and portable modes respectively.
The game starts simple enough: Pressing either ‘R’ or ‘L’ will shift the pinball colour to the respective virtual gun colour, cycling between red, green, blue and yellow. When the ball colour matches the floor block colour, it speeds up. Colour mismatching slows it down. But Neonwall is far from a casual title and past the first few levels, new gameplay elements are introduced such as the need to manually aim and shoot colour coded obstacle blocks with ‘ZR’ and ‘ZL’ to clear the way (or the need to grab and move blocks to make a proper path for the ball to safely traverse).
Be prepared for some serious brain training (and brain-freezing) as you'll need to juggle all these gameplay mechanics often in intervals of mere seconds to progress in later levels. If you let the attract mode start playing by idling at the title screen for a few seconds, you'll swear you’re watching a robot playing because of how easy it makes some of the trickier later levels seem. There are over 30 of them and they come in three distinct flavours (‘Runner’, ‘Puzzle’ and ‘Time Trial’), but the developer has already announced plans to expand this initial set with future DLC. Despite the dangers of imminent frustration settling in on some occasions, it feels like a true accomplishment when the pinball finally warps into the goal and you can just throw your arms around in celebration, with the on-screen guns repeating your celebratory movements.
Graphics-wise, Neonwall is a direct neon homage to ‘TRON’ and considering how important it is to make sure players must never have trouble distinguishing between the four colours, it's an aesthetic choice that suits the game perfectly. Everything runs smoothly in both docked and portable modes so poor optimisation can’t be used as an excuse for failure. The music is, not surprisingly, of the electronic variant, but there's some serious psytrance playing on most of the time that would feel more at home in FAST RMX rather than a puzzle game. Your mileage may vary on this topic, but we actually welcomed the added tension the music adds to the whole experience.
Neonwall is a fresh new take on the old physics puzzler genre, immensely enjoyable thanks to the Joy-Cons IR tracking control mode. A beautiful package of endless neon glows and electronic music filled with some stiff concentration and reflex challenges makes it very easy for us to recommend this unusual yet deeply satisfying addition to Nintendo Switch's digital library.