Every Indie developer has to start somewhere. However, it seems that in this day and age where just about anybody with a laptop can make a game, many fail to remember an absolutely critical fact: you've got to walk before you can run. Nowhere is this more evident than in Helix Games' sophomore outing, Neon Battle. While this simple arcade game can scarcely be described as anything beyond average, it offers an enjoyable - though very simple - take on the world's first notable video game, Pong.
Gameplay is exactly what one would expect out of a pong game, as you control a paddle and hit a ball when it comes your way. The twist here is that the playing field is actually a circle and your paddle moves along its circumference. Sure, it may be a gimmick, but for such a simple change in design this feels surprisingly fresh. It's a real shame that the idea never gets fully realized, though, as the meagre single player and multiplayer options fail to flesh out the concept in any meaningful way.
Multiplayer is the obvious draw to a game such as this, and you'll likely be spending the majority of your time either playing against a friend on the couch or against a fairly docile AI. A point is awarded each time the ball bounces off of your paddle, so matches typically consist of mad scrambles to get to the other side of the circle before the other paddle gets there first. Power-ups occasionally drop along the path which award things such as an additional point or a temporary boost to the size of your paddle. While it does get a bit stale after a couple rounds, matches are fairly fast paced and things can get very competitive in the late game. If there are any major complaints to be made about the multiplayer, it's that the AI is quite a pushover; players don't need to really do much to get the upper hand.
A single player mode is also available, but it's rather useless and forgettable. Single player matches consist of a match against oneself, wherein you bounce the ball off your paddle and swing around to the other side of the circle to do it again. The fact that no power-ups spawn and there's literally no way to lose just makes it come off as a half baked and lifeless inclusion. On top of this, if you do somehow manage to miss the ball, it will randomly launch to any part of the circle when it respawns. This leads to instances where you'll be constantly moving back and forth, trying to anticipate where it might spawn next so you can continue the rally and "win".
Presentation is extremely simple, consisting of solid black backgrounds and a couple of neon lines. The simplistic visuals work well enough considering the neon theme, but it's difficult to not see this as being a bit lazy on the developer's part. The soundtrack consists of only a couple songs, though it's quite pleasant to listen to and has a surprising amount of longevity to it. The tracks could be most closely described as a bizarre collection of 8-bit electro house arrangements with some punk rock influences, and this is the kind of music that'll be bouncing around in your head for a while after playing it.
Neon Battle is one of those games that you'll play once or twice and then forget about; aside from the potential couch multiplayer, there's really no reason to keep coming back. That being said, the basic mechanics of the game are solid enough and can lead to some surprisingly fun competitions. We'll give this one a light recommendation - the idea of "circular pong" is a clever one and the amount of content here certainly justifies the low price of admission. We just wish there was a little more fleshed out of the concept.