Neon Abyss is what happens when a lorry-load of guns and a truck full of glowsticks crash into a petshop filled with folks on their way to a cosplay convention, at the same time as aliens invade. The aliens also look half-android, half-digested meatball for some reason.

If that sounds like a dream come true then OH BOY do you need therapy, but you’ll love Neon Abyss.

Prefer a video review/playthrough? Got you covered, boo. X

Dub-step dungeon

The story is fairly simple, albeit a mad scramble of The Matrix, Cyberpunk 2020, and American Gods. You’re recruited by a slick-haired Hades in an Italian suit. He’s had his powers nicked by a bunch of upstart modern gods and wants your help getting them back, so you go out on a murderisin’ spree – the God of Mobile Video, God of Gambling, all fall under your bullet/laser/grenade/fish bones/whatever other weird and wonderful projectile you’re shooting from your chosen tool of decimation.

Apparently they also destroyed your family or something, blah blah blah, personal stakes, but whatever man. I’m just here to tussle with some balls. I mean –

You drink a blue martini (it’s like red pill/blue pill lol), and like that you’re thrown into your first run.

In case you’re lost – I’m the frogboy haunted by the tiny Republican

Roguelite legacy

Flimsy excuse for splattering pixelated gore as it is (sorry Neon Abyss deep lore fans), it sets the stage for an arcade shootathon that’s fun and in, parts, frantic. There’s plenty of space to stop and smell the roses, in loot rooms, shops, at teleport stones… but once you set foot into an area with enemies, the doors are locked and bolted and the viscera starts to fly.

Combat is simple point-and-shoot shenanigans, but you’ll feel severely underpowered starting out as you cherry-tap away. Not that you’ll get far if all you do is aim. Even early enemies can bounce bullets around the level in ways that can catch you by surprise, if you’re not on your toes or engaging smartly. But, as you ‘git gud’ in the modern parlance, or just don’t be dumb… like me… you’ll unlock upgrades, pickups and new gear that will put the fear of God into… ummm… those other gods.

Pictured: a dumb thing

Room for a little-gun?

While regular mooks just drop normal items – blood-crusted coins, gore-soaked grenades, and kidney-adjacent keys – the small maps making up each level of Neon Abyss are scattered with special rooms, powering up and diversifying your arsenal.

From the start, you’ll have boss rooms and shops. Boss rooms, as well as portalling you to the other floors, will drop heart containers and weapon upgrades to make your run easier, as well as gems. After you, you know… kill the Bullet Hell-ish ball that’s waiting for you. Might want to gear up first. Which leads to…

Shops! Altars to capitalism, where you can spend your quite literally filthy lucre to buy a different weapon, new items, or pickups. Weapons aren’t inherently better than each other, but the way they act, and interact with your items and the world, can dramatically change your playstyle. Items are usually straight improvements – double jump, extra loot, and so on – though again some alter the rules of the game. Many weird and wonderful rooms exist to beef you up, but to find them you’ve got to die. Which I am doing here on screen now for purely instructional purposes. On getting kicked back to the bar, those gems you’ve been collecting are spent to unlock new rooms and rules. These can be turned on and off at will, if you want to live in a world without giant loot-spewing floor pianos or bomb barrels. Saddo.

How’d the shopkeeper reach the lower levels of a death dungeon? The magic of CAPITALISM!

Diplomacy aids

Diving deeper into the gear, you can only carry one weapon at a time which makes the choice and chance of which of the 60 to use critical. These can complement different playstyles or interact with items in an interesting way – for example, a gun that deals melee damage works great with items that boost melee. Apart from the bullets, many guns also have active and passive abilities that, again, can change how you play.

Items are a little simpler, and generally you’re fine to grab whatever from the literal hundreds on offer. These range from simple additions to breaking the rules of the game, and by themselves can be weak but together can provide crazy combos. Turning bombs into homing clusters is good. Using keys as bombs is great. Getting keys when you kill with bombs, well, suddenly you’re a one-person Unabomber. Who I guess was a one person…

Peak high-velocity diplomacy

A little pick-me-up

Beyond gear, you’ve got pick-ups. We’ve briefly mentioned bombs and keys, which are used to demolish stone obstacles (and meatballs) and unlock doors and chests, respectively. Never needed to progress, but handy if you want the best run possible.

Eggs, once picked up, trail along behind you. On clearing a room there’s a chance it will hatch, giving you a temporary companion that can block bullets, return fire, grab pick-ups, and a host of other abilities. These can be killed so relying on one too heavily is a mistake, but many do something else on death.

And, finally, hearts, shields, and crystals. Hearts are your health, you can only have as many as you have heart containers. Shields you can have as many as you find, but they’re rarer. Crystals power some of your abilities, and also unlock certain chests and doors.

Oh, and there’s cash. It works like cash.

Dropped items are helpfully tracked on the map too, in case you want to nip back

The unusual crowd

Lastly, but not leastly, there are the characters themselves. Unlocked with gems, they’re all solid choices with their own starting weapons, pickups, and abilities. This is the one thing you have any real control over, so this is the start of your strategy. For example, the android R-6’s ability is he only has shields. This may seem underpowered, but if you know many pickups make you more powerful the less hearts you have, and you’ve got a possible high-risk-high-reward build.

Aesthetically varied. They even have a single woman! Feminism is winning /s

Strategy’s a place in France

Strategising is going to be, I think, a sticking point for some. You can ban many items, weapons, and even enemies at the bar until the game starts blocking achievements. With so many available though, having a concrete plan when going in just isn’t possible. Like a cross-country limbo dancer, you’ve got to be flexible to get far. If you played and enjoyed Slay the Spire then you should enjoy Neon Abyss, but if making the most of chaos isn’t your thing then approach with caution.

Embellishing this madness is the fact you can’t see what an item or weapon does before you grab it, except for a few exceptions. Game knowledge and a lot of luck can fill the gap, but short of wiki-ing every item before grabbing it (and totally destroying the flow), it’s frustrating. Even worse, it makes many of the game’s choices between items a total crapshoot.

Double-yolk or angel horn? No I shall not be taking questions

Stylin’ it out

Chaos is the driving force behind Neon Abyss, and my gosh it rides it. A good run nets you tens of items and a gun that fills the screen with bullets at every click. A bad one, an early demise because your luck only turned up junk. That latter is rare though, and the one-hour max run time and gem unlock progression system means dying isn’t that big a deal. I find finishing a run more disappointing, because I can’t get my character so ridiculously souped up that they can DESTROY GOD! I mean, even more gods.

This is a positively minimalist loadout

Dancing the night away

Neon Abyss is a game with a lot of heart. If you can embrace the balls-to-the-walls mad-mattery of it all you’ll have a great time. Features like teleport stones and a map that highlights dropped items removes a lot of frustration roguelikes can have, like aimless backtracking. It remains to be seen if it’s a long-time favourite of mine, but you could do much worse for a cheeky dive.

Neon Abyss sound like your kind of bullet hell?
You can pick it up on Steam for a few bob.