For all the genre tags liberally flung at the influx of indie games over the last few years, it could be assumed that a select few terms might have become faux pas, or even derogatory. Despite splintering off into many branches of sub category since its inception, uttering words like 'roguelike' or 'permadeath' can immediately engage as well as distance a potential audience. It is with that cautionary disclaimer that French developer Flying Oak's twin stick RPG roguelite shooter fits, but do not dismiss it for a second based solely on its labels.
The genre of roguelite seems to be a recent trend, almost to the point of saturation. For all the randomly generated levels and amount of ability variations, the best in the genre balance difficulty, addictiveness and enough variety to keep players coming back. The frustration of starting over from scratch countered with an arcade-style 'just one more go' mentality is where the best games sit.
NeuroVoider, then, is a futuristic twin stick 'roguelite' shooter. Replacing the turn-based combat typically found in a roguelike for more immediate, action packed thrills, the elements of permadeath (death resulting in starting from the beginning and losing gear as well as progress), randomly generated labyrinths of enemies and piles of trinkets to upgrade or repair your character are still present, but in this case they take the form of adorable mechanoids in a futuristic, post-party dystopia. With very little story other than that you are a brain trying to escape from the aftermath of said epic shindig, it's straight down to the main objective - destroy reactors and take down enemies.
From choosing the number of players (the game supports up to 4), there are a few more menus to navigate before everything kicks off. Robot speed and agility vs armour and firepower trade off as you are given three classes of character to choose from - dash, rampage or fortress (shield) - and then a further 27 options regarding a special ability, ranging from melee attacks, group or individual health boosts and so on. From there, you have a linear path to follow and are presented with choosing a stage. Based on a five point scale, stages are classed by size, elites (bigger enemies) and loot. At the risk of getting complacent, there is the option to skip a level or generate a new set upon meeting certain criteria.
Controls are smooth, tight and pretty standard - left stick to move, right stick to aim, A brings up the map and the shoulder buttons fire primary and secondary weapons.
Managing your artillery can be key, especially in the thick of it. Batteries deplete, guns overheat and the balance of damage over durability will make you think twice about holding down the rapid fire. Frequent loot drops of varying rarity continually keep interest in an almost overwhelming level of customisation, with the end of each stage allowing upgrades, repairs, forging loot or even changing class.
From random culinary advice to public service announcements, there are nuggets of stylish humour and whether your mechanoid floats, hovers or walks, each has is own little personality which had potential to be upgraded, but would have been great to be narratively explored as well.
Progression can be halted by difficulty spikes, especially when taking on nemesis bosses. Gigantic, brutal mechanical beasts that are almost frustratingly powerful, so it does place an emphasis on manoeuvrability as opposed to trying to bulldoze your way through.
The pace of the action and explosion effects can get immense, but show no technical slow down. From death (which you'll do a lot) to restarting is reletavely seamless, although selecting the number of players every time seems a little unnecessary.
Environments could have done with being a bit more varied in terms of location, as there are a handful of decals, which limit the aesthetic and seem inferior compared to the thousands of enemy and weapon combinations waiting to be experimented with.
It can be a welcome respite when clusters of robots are nowhere to be seen, and it's possible to take in the atmosphere generated by the rich colour palettes and especially the superb soundtrack - a mostly moody, incredibly accomplished set of synth tunes that compliment the dilapidated cybernetic environments perfectly.
It could be argued that one of the draws of NeuroVoider is that you can play it like a twin stick arcade game or an RPG style game, as you see fit. NeuroVoider is all about its options and combinations, but if scrolling through menus is not your thing, that's ok. Whether it's selecting difficulty based on experience or customising your robot, the number of possible outcomes soon ramp up and as a result, there is a decent middle ground for any player to find. Yes, the game can get difficult, sometimes frustratingly so and especially in single player, but remove the Joy-Con, grab a buddy or three and go at causing some chaos, because NeuroVoider is a lot of fun.
The overall presentation is a futuristic pixel art masterpiece, while the synth techno soundtrack is varied, tense, moody and constantly thrilling. Failing however regularly never becomes dull and whether roguelikes, lites or procedurally generated games float your proverbial boat, NeuroVoider has charm, addictive and explosive gameplay with a vibrant cyborg chic aesthetic. Despite ticking a lot of popular genre boxes, it manages to dig its mechanical feet in on its own merits due to frantic action, satisfyingly tight controls and a wide range of customisation through parts and weapons.
While the idea of a roguelike RPG shooter might sound like a bit of a mish mash, NeuroVoider is an immensely enjoyable experience if you want to invest time in the customisation or just go in arcade style, all plasma cannons and laser beams blazing.