Finding a home on consoles is an ongoing challenge for games that have seen success on Steam and smart devices. While free-to-play or relatively inexpensive titles are becoming available on digital marketplaces thick and fast, it could be argued that there is a degree of stigma that comes with titles making the shift from mobile to console. There are some genuinely great releases and a select few have transferred well over to the console space, including the Switch eShop. While this 'gold rush' of titles on the Switch can reveal some hidden gems, it also runs the risk of being a victim of its own success.
Neon Chrome arrives on Switch as a stylish top-down, twin-stick and rogue-lite shooter, with the backdrop of a moody cyberpunk dystopia; the central plot is a combination of Thomas Anderson, Rick Deckard and John Mclain's worst 'bad day at the office'.
You take up the role of a hacker whose mission it is to infiltrate the giant titular tower block known as Neon Chrome, and free the city by remotely taking down its ruler - the elected enigma that the building's one million enslaved inhabitants 'trust', known only as the 'Overseer'. Climbing thirty two floors in any given 'neural link', the end goal is to reach the top and face off with said nemesis.
From the outset the player sits in the 'immersion chair', able to possess one of three possible, randomly generated avatars referred to as 'assets' - representations of human inhabitants that have different weapon load-outs and strengths. Of course there is a local multiplayer option, so you can find a friend or three and snap off those Joy-Cons for some cooperative action.
When dropped into the procedurally generated set of levels there is a mix of destructible corridor walls, drones to disable, scuttling little beasties to combat, lasers to avoid and special operatives to take of, as well as loot boxes and weapon upgrades to collect. If your avatar dies weapons and stats are retained for your next run, while cash can be traded to increase health, luck, energy or slots; there are a wealth of impressive sounding 'cybernetic enhancements' (abilities) to gather while progressing through the levels. You will die and grind a lot in the opening hour or so, but defeating a boss ensures that you at least get closer to the summit without having to start from the bottom again.
Despite the evil mega corporation, themes of manipulation, control and a maniacal puppet master overlord rhetoric, the overall presentation of the game is pretty lacklustre. The opening cutscene, complete with mauve impressionist skyline and glowing signage, mostly takes care of exposition, with the selectable characters displayed as boxes of text and icons. The appropriately ominous and ambient synth soundtrack fits in well with the aesthetic, harking back to the Sci-Fi classics such as Blade Runner or Terminator. Within the levels, Neon Chrome also sets up a rich, interesting interface - you jump into chambers that are scattered around the levels, with futuristic fonts and fancy insignia for excitingly named special abilities - but the experience is diluted by actually making no real noticeable impact to the actual gameplay; the changes are stat based and don't translate well into the action.
Although the levels are procedurally generated, they rarely show any drastic variety in their layout, but the structures of narrow passageways and cubicle-like spaces or rooms - full of power generators - make for some impressive explosions. In terms of extra challenge outside of the gunplay, only colour coded doors that require finding the corresponding keys or taking down particular beacons provide any kind of obstacle, so navigating each floor becomes rather predictable.
Despite stealth kills, strafing around bigger enemies, the occasional chain reaction of explosions causing widespread carnage - with the ensuing lighting effects that are undeniably satisfying - and Neon Chrome's fixed top-down viewpoint doing a decent job of showing level layouts, the sprite models feel bland and so distant that the characters (only seen in the pause menu) possess very little personality or physical identity. This is especially notable in handheld mode, where the whole experience seems rather blurry compared to docked gameplay.
When all is said and done, when the glow of the stylish aesthetic and the intrigue of the Cyberpunk Orwellian narrative have fizzled out, Neon Chrome emerges as an average, sometimes fun but more often than not generic twin-stick rogue-like with a Sci-Fi coat of paint; it rarely lives up to its explosive promise or explores its thematic potential in any meaningful way. It could be argued that the genre is solely about the mechanics, but with a neglected backstory failing to compliment the reasonable if hardly revolutionary gameplay, it's difficult not to feel a little flat about the experience on offer.