The Binding of Isaac begat Enter the Gungeon, which begat Neon Abyss: you could almost end this review there. Neon Abyss is so similar to Enter the Gungeon that we were fairly taken aback at first. Being a side-scroller, though, it's actually closer to its less-beloved spin-off Exit the Gungeon.
So yes, this is another roguelite on a system positively festooned with them. It's fun to play – we'll get to that – but the real question is whether or not it's worth picking up if you've already played its contemporaries such as the aforementioned games above, Rogue Legacy, Dead Cells or the like. Unfortunately, that isn't an easy question to answer.
You begin each game dropped into the titular Neon Abyss, which takes the form of a somewhat nondescript dungeon. It's colourful and well-drawn, but there's not much in the way of environmental 'pizzaz' or standout gimmicks: there are platforms, bouncy platforms, disappearing platforms and different types of doors. It's all very functional, but the result is that the contents of a room are rarely going to surprise you. It's so straightforward that we were a little surprised to see some rare slowdown when the screen got especially busy.
Rooms are threaded together randomly, as you'd expect, and you can teleport between cleared rooms in exactly the same manner as Enter the Gungeon. Getting around is easy with the D-Pad and left stick, as is the jump button on ZL. It all feels very smooth and polished, and the gunplay – assigned to the right stick as in, you guessed it, Gungeon – is accurate and intuitive.
Another similarity with that other game we'll definitely stop mentioning now is that its variation comes in the form of the numerous different items, weapons and buffs you can acquire. You've also got grenades, which can break through certain walls, blow open troublesome chests or simply take a chunk out of a boss's health. These grenades and other consumables such as hearts and shields can be found all over, but more permanent, powerful items can be grabbed from treasure rooms and shops: these are accessed with keys and crystals, the latter a more common resource. Using said crystals also influences a semi-hidden 'faith' system, where you have the choice of which 'path' you want to follow: but we should probably leave some secrets for you to discover.
Throughout each stage you'll find eggs that can randomly hatch into Binding of Isaac-esque followers, which can add various projectiles and effects to your attacks and even block enemy bullets. Keeping your followers alive for long enough can see them level up and evolve into more powerful variants: it's not uncommon to have a long trail of creatures following you around, boosting your every move.
Even if you fail to make it to the end of a run, you'll receive a currency that lets you gradually unlock more and more features, items and gimmicks to put into the levels. This keeps things interesting, as on top of this gradually encroaching complexity you'll also unlock new and more powerful final boss battles, meaning the game gets longer and more varied as you keep playing.
The major problem is that it's hard to make Neon Abyss sound fresh, new, or vital because, well, it isn't. Everything here has been done before, but don't write it off immediately: it's a very enjoyable action roguelite, and actually one of the better takes on the genre that we've played. The major reason for this is that even failing is fun here: that drip-feed of extra stuff is as compelling as it was in Dead Cells, but it's somewhat more forthcoming with new content, characters (with different starting loadouts, natch), and generally cool things.
The basic movement and shooting controls are reliable enough that the game is a pleasure just to play, even if you're not doing well. Getting an overpowered run is always great, but here it's a particular treat to combine that kind of luck with the simple joy of the familiar. It's an earnestly enjoyable take on something that has sadly been done to death.
With the game's difficulty scaling to your skill level and a brace of interesting items, this is an accomplished example of the genre. The most prominently interesting feature is the 'skill tree' you use to gradually add more and more to the game, which makes it difficult to resist another go-around to check out the new thing you've just bought. Honestly, there's stuff we haven't even mentioned like the diversions you'll find in the dungeons (a piano room is a fun one, early on), but we suspect there are systems in Neon Abyss that we're yet to discover.
Neon Abyss is a game that offers a lot, but we have the feeling it's going to be a bit of an also-ran in the roguelite genre. If so, that's a shame, because it's an enormous amount of fun, with a good challenge, lovely controls and plenty of scope for craziness: which is all a roguelite really needs to be compelling. As long as you don't expect to be blown away, we can give Neon Abyss a strong recommendation. It's up there with the best roguelites on the Switch: it's just a shame it wasn't there first.