NeuroVoider Review

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NeuroVoider* is a twin-stick shooter RPG set in a cyber futuristic world about brains shooting around evil robots with nuclear rocket launchers. Battle through the horde of vigilant robots, boost your character with the smoking remains of your victims, and defeat the master NeuroVoider to end this eternal war. Play it coop with up to 4 friends, or go alone in an adventure of hack’n’slash rampage, with a pinch of rogue-lite, and some permadeath. * may contain explosions. –Flying Oak Games

Right from the jump, NeuroVoider (by Flying Oak Games) slapped me in the face, grabbed me by the shirt, and demanded that I pay attention to it. I am a fan of twin-stick shooters, especially those of a futuristic bent, but there was one lingering doubt in my mind as I fired it up for the first time: I had never enjoyed rogue-lites.

I had played Rogue Legacy, Spelunky, The Binding of Isaac, and several others, and none of them ever grabbed me. I found myself envious of people who fired up Spelunky every day to run the Daily Challenge, but the games just didn’t speak to me that way. The idea that a small mistake could cost me so much time and progress was just one of the things that kept me from truly enjoying the genre.

But NeuroVoider is different; its isometric perspective, scanline 16-bit aesthetic, and pulse-pounding music had me begging for more before I even started playing. The music, a dark synth onslaught to the senses, is like the evil twin of Hotline Miami’s soundtrack (but even catchier) and before I even got through the tutorial, I was looking up whether the soundtrack was available for download. (It is. Dan Terminus did the music, and the soundtrack is available here: Bandcamp)

In NeuroVoider, up to four players control human brains that have freed themselves from fluid-filled containers to take over robotic war machines. It was a little disappointing that the only story occurred in the game’s tutorial and final level, but since gameplay is the focus here, the simple plot faded from my mind, replaced by a sprint through the 20 hectic levels separating me from the final boss: the titular NeuroVoider.

The game’s 20 levels are split into four sections, each consisting of four regular levels and one boss level. In order to clear normal levels, players must search out and destroy reactors. The number of reactors can range from one to five, the number being randomly determined.

Once the reactors are destroyed, players are free to teleport out of the level and move on to the next one. After clearing each level, an Intermission allows players to equip or upgrade new armor and weapons they picked up in the previous level, repair any remaining damage, and craft new items before hopping back to the Choose Destination screen.

There, players are given three randomly generated levels to choose from, which gives them a degree of control over what they will do next. Would they rather challenge a small ice level packed with Elite enemies, or would they prefer the sprawling labyrinth of a post-apocalyptic shopping mall with many small enemies but few truly difficult ones?

These choices determine more than just difficulty, as Elite enemies drop more loot, and have a higher chance to drop items of better quality.

In addition to these choices, from time to time a Metaverse level may appear. These levels offer bonus rewards, including chunks of upgrade currency or items that let you skip levels entirely. If that sounds appealing, it should, but it comes at a cost: these levels have special twists to increase the challenge.

Metaverse levels with Swarm include seemingly endless amounts of enemies, Pitch Black drastically limits player visibility, Super-Elite fills the level with difficult enemies packing powerful weapons, and Self-Destruct gives players a short timer to destroy the reactors and teleport away before it’s Game Over!

There are three classes of robot to choose from, each the embodiment of a different combat philosophy. The first, Dash, is based around agility. It boasts an ability that allows players to dodge through bullets without taking damage.

The second class, Rampage, is all about maximizing damage output. The class ability for Rampage puts the player’s primary weapon on overdrive; it shoots much faster for a short time, and movement speed is increased while it is active.

The final class is called Fortress and, as you probably guessed from the name, it is all about defense. It’s special ability allows the player to hunker down and put up a shield to gain a few seconds of invulnerability.

I started with Rampage, but after a few deaths, I tried the Dash and Fortress classes and found their abilities more useful, allowing for a more defensive play-style that came in handy as I inched my way closer to the final confrontation with the NeuroVoider.

By the time I reached the first boss, I had settled into the cycle of blasting my way through levels, gathering parts, equipping the ones I liked and scrapping the ones I didn’t. Scraps from unwanted materials can be used between levels to restore health, upgrade equipment, or forge new equipment with randomized stats (much like the crafting system in Diablo III).

My favorite weapons were a repeating spread-shot weapon and a rocket launcher, and I found that I was quickly able to dispatch swarms of enemies with the spread-shot, and make quick work of Elite enemies with rockets.

As players advance through the game, their meager bot will transform into a juggernaut of destructive power. Even so, death is always just around the corner. Somehow, unlike other rogue-lites, dying in NeuroVoider rarely frustrated me. Death came because I wasn’t cautious enough, or I was standing too close to an explosive barrel, not because the game was unfair.

The deck is stacked against the player, to be sure, but a patient and cautious approach is often rewarded with progress and ultimate survival. It is a testament to Flying Oak’s skill that as soon as I died I wanted to jump right back in. After beating the game, players are offered a choice to stop there and relish their hard-earned victory or dive back into New Game+, where the difficulty is increased even further.

There were a few times when the environments started to feel repetitive, or the level layout was strange, but randomly generated levels are not carefully curated experiences, and more often than not the resulting levels were quite good.

Engaging in multiplayer is a lot of fun and it can make things easier, too, although there are a few drawbacks. During the more hectic moments when swarms of enemies and four players are on the screen, it can be easy to lose track of where your character is, or mistake it for someone else’s, especially early on in the game or if you chose the same class.

In addition, there were several times during one particular multiplayer session when one or two people lagged behind, or ran in a different direction from the rest of the team, and got stuck off-screen. Moments like that slow down the pace of the game considerably and create a lull in the otherwise action-packed game. I found two-player games to be ideal, but your mileage may vary.

The benefit to playing with teammates is that when one person dies, it isn’t Game Over. As their robotic shell was destroyed, dead players get to bounce their brain around the rest of the level, following their teammates, and their metallic frames are restored to half health during the next Intermission. This functionality makes reaching the end of the game much easier, especially if you and your teammates pick different classes and weapons that complement each other.

FINAL VERDICT:

NeuroVoider is an approachable rogue-lite that has tight twin-stick shooter gameplay, masterful music, procedurally generated levels, Borderlands-style loot drops, and a crafting and upgrade system that is easy to understand and satisfying to execute. Multiplayer is a bit cluttered with four players, but each additional player makes it easier to survive the game’s increasingly hectic encounters.

I have tried several rogue-lites and this is the first one that I have fallen in love with. This game is never going to leave my Switch memory card, and if I have a few minutes to kill during a commute, or while waiting in line, this is the game I’ll be playing. NeuroVoider is “Just one more level…,” defined.

If that sounds like something you would enjoy, you can pick up a copy of NeuroVoider for $14 on the Nintendo eShop!

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