Neon White

Neon White is a FPS Puzzle Platformer with fantastic guns and incredible movement. I’d mention the story, but I want you to want to play it.

Neon White by Angel Matrix is a puzzle platformer FPS with some lite visual novel elements, and it’s brilliant. And while it might sound like a sort of game salad of multiple genres, that’s purely because I’m bad at describing things. The key point here is that I like it.

I think the easiest way to explain Neon White is to describe what a level looks like. So let’s start with that. You maneuver using traditional FPS controls around a stylized environment, and you have two goals to complete the level: kill all the demons, and reach the end. However, these aren’t Doom-style demons. These are more like… potted plants. They’re all immobile, and while they shoot projectiles, they’re not hard to dodge. They act as obstacles more than enemies, and each enemy type drops a different gun.

Oh, we haven’t talked about guns yet, have we? Guns reset between levels, and are represented as cards. You can carry two types of guns at once, and 3 copies of a particular gun/card (I’ll explain in a moment). Guns are dual purpose. You can shoot with them, and you can also throw away a copy to use a special movement ability. The shotgun lets you do a dash. The pistol has a double jump. The rocket launcher is also a grappling hook, making it one of the greatest weapons in any game. And if that sounds like I’m ripping off Zero Punctuation… well. Not deliberately. It’s just a fantastic weapon that’s incredibly fun to use.

Dear god I love this rocket launcher so much.

These are the core ingredients of Neon White, but the one thing I haven’t mentioned is that everything is timed. Not in a “countdown” sort of way, but a speedrun timer ticking up. In order to unlock more levels, you need to clear a set of levels from the current pool with a gold rank or higher.

While this might sound intimidating, the timing for getting gold medals is very generous. The same is true of the crystal rank medal, and it isn’t until you go for the secret red clear times (which don’t even show up until you beat them) that things get really challenging.

And while we’re talking about gold medals and clear times, we may as well talk about Neon White’s story. The short version is that you’re an assassin in the afterlife called in to hunt down demons for a chance at redemption. And while the story gets interesting in the last 25% of the game, much of what precedes that moment feels a bit cringey. Not bad, but I heard someone describe it as an independent webcomic from the early 2000’s, and I’d say that sounds about right.

This would be a great place to include a picture of story content. I’m not going to do that because I want you to buy this game.

Outside of the story, pretty much everything in Neon White is perfect. I saw almost no bugs in my playtime, and even the boss levels worked well. The game does a fantastic job with its progression and introducing new weapons and concepts as it goes. That said, it’s not a massive any means. A lot of the value comes from replaying levels multiple times for better clear times, and hunting for shortcuts and skips within those levels.

There is one more thing I want to talk about before I wrap this up, and that’s writing this article. This is version 7 or so of my Neon White writeup. Not “draft 7.” I have written and thrown away 6 earlier versions of this, because Neon White isn’t a super easy game to describe in a compelling manner.

So if you’re not convinced, I suggest watching either Zero Punctuation’s video on the game, or maybe Dunkey’s? I think they both do a better job of selling the game in certain aspects, and it deserves better than my somewhat poor writeup. But I legitimately can’t describe this game well. I’ve tried, failed, and now I’m going to write about other games, without this draft glaring at me judgingly while I write about something else for the eighth week in a row.

If you were convinced by this writeup, then, uh. Wow. You can get Neon White on Steam or Switch. It’s $25, and it’s a good use of that money.

Hazelnut Hex Review

Hazelnut Hex is a fantastic shoot-em-up that knows exactly what it’s doing and executes on it perfectly.

Hazelnut Hex is brilliant. The game is a to-the-point shoot em up that knows exactly what it’s doing and executes on it perfectly. Some folks might call the game minimalist; I’m calling it precise.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of Hazelnut Hex, it’s a shoot-em-up/shmup¬†for the Switch. In terms of tone, it feels like a pastel colored version of Touhou. Also like Tohou, the music goes far harder than it has any need to. This is track 4 from the game, Bite After Dark. Do me a favor and listen to that while you read the rest of the review.

But what I want to talk about is the gameplay, because to me this is where the brilliance of the game lies. I wouldn’t ever describe myself as a shmup¬†person. I haven’t even played Touhou.

The core rules of Hazelnut Hex are simple. Shoot the enemies, and don’t get hit with projectiles. Do that, get to the boss, and beat the boss to win. After all, it is a shoot em up. But Hazelnut Hex isn’t random. Instead, each level follows a predictable pattern. And while you can restart if you die, you lose your score. I think this is a nice balance. Even if you’re terrible, you can still play the entire game.

Every subsystem in the game feels perfectly designed. Let’s start with lives. You start with 3 lives (or 5 if you turn the value up because you’re bad like me) and getting hit costs you a life. Get 500,000 points and get another life. This is one of the very few times a game has actually made me care about points. Sure, you can get points for just blasting enemies, but you can get more by waiting for your shots to charge and hitting chains of enemies with more powerful blasts.

In addition to getting more points, charged shots also destroy enemy bullets, and build your special meter. You can use specials to shoot a massive blast that gives you invulnerability frames and clears bullets off the screen. But at the same time, it also gives points based on the number of bullets on the screen. It can function as a panic button if you find yourself trapped, but it’s also a scoring tool.

All of sudden, instead of just blasting non-stop to clear the incoming waves, I found myself actually looking at enemy patterns, and trying to spot moments when they lined up for clean charge shots, so that I had extra lives going into tougher spots. I’d describe it as the difference between button mashing and trying to actually understand what’s going on in a fighting game.

And pretty much every subsystem feels like this. There’s a set of end of level scoring bonuses that include one for having your squirrel Sam with you when you clear the level. It’s 20,000 points which is a fairly large amount. Why is it so high? Because you can only pickup Sam before the boss fight. This isn’t just a bonus for keeping Sam alive, its a bonus for clearing the boss fight without getting hit! Other score bonuses are only applied when you clear a level. This makes it so you can get large payouts, but the level keeps you from getting them too early, and getting easy bonus lives.

Hazelnut Hex can be played through without understanding any of these systems. That’s how I beat it the first time, after all. But if you want to master it, the game also provides the ability to do so. You can start any level with any combination of weapon, weapon power, and health. Want to practice a boss fight without playing the first half of the level? Go right ahead.

Other people might criticize the game for not being very long, since you can play through the whole thing by just continuing after death. I don’t think that’s actually a problem. Hazelnut Hex doesn’t include any bloat. It’s not trying to be anything else other than an expertly crafted shmup. And playing it gave me, terrible as I am, a bit more of an appreciation for the brilliance of the genre.

Hazelnut Hex is $8 for Nintendo Switch. You can buy it here.

Ed Note: Images in the article are taken from the Nintendo Store page.

V Rising

V Rising is a solid survival/crafting game with a vampire theme and mechanics. I can’t think of a good vampire pun to put here.

I like V Rising. I don’t think it’s a perfect game. But it cost $20, and I’ve played 60 hours of it. If that’s not an easy recommendation, I don’t know what is.

V Rising is a multiplayer survival/crafting game in the vein Valheim or Rust. Instead of following their lead and being in a first person or over the shoulder camera, V Rising has a top down camera much closer to something like Diablo.

And instead of being a human unlucky enough to wash up on some random island, you’re a vampire.

The vampire thing isn’t just a theme. Sure, there’s a blood meter that replaces your hunger bar. But who you drink blood from also heavily impacts gameplay. Drink blood from a worker, and you’ll harvest more resources. Drink blood from a nun, and you’ll restore health when casting spells. Drink blood from a warrior, and you can parry some incoming attacks.

Also, you burn real hard during the daytime.

The general gameplay loop of V Rising is straight forward. After you get through the game’s equivalent of tutorial, and have a simple base set up, you’ll venture out to farm materials to craft better gear. Once your gear is good enough, you can go fight stronger bosses or “V Blood Carriers.” Defeating a boss and harvesting V Blood unlocks additional spells, powers, and crafting recipes. Then you can craft better gear! But that might require expanding your base, which requires more resources. So you rinse and repeat.

Of course, when I say “harvest resources” I mean less in a “harvest crops” sort of way, and more in a “humans in the Matrix” sort of vibe. V-Rising’s combat is probably closest to Battlerite (not surprisingly, given that Stunlock made both games). If you’re not familiar with Battlerite, I’d say it feels like a slower-paced version of League of Legends. Also, damage, health and “level” is all completely dependent on the level of gear you have equipped.

I never really had that “Power Fantasy” moment that I get from games like Path of Exile. Instead, you’re limited to 3 skills from your weapon, 2 spells, and an ultimate skill. Even when you outlevel an enemy, unless the difference is absolutely massive, you can still get put into the dirt. The combat is at its best in the game’s boss fights against V-Blood Carriers. It’s at its most annoying against packs or random mobs.

I don’t have too much to say on the multiplayer, mostly because I feel like you can play the game however you want. My first 50 hours were with a few friends on a publicly-hosted PVE server. The next 10 where those same friends on a privately hosted PVP server, and now we’re not friends anymore. Jokes aside, the multiplayer works well, and many of the factors like resource scaling are configurable. If you want a comfy base building setup with some friends, you can just join or host a PVE server with 5x resources, and the ability to teleport. And if you’re masochistic, you can join a 0.5 resource PVP server. Changing the pace and flow is pretty much just a server config setting.

I don’t think the game’s perfect. There’s a whole system for binding and turning humans into vampire servants, but their utility is limited outside of equipping them with a bit of gear, and sending them out on timed missions to gather resources. While the weapons are fairly diverse, the clothing options are a completely linear path, with no build diversity other than “big number good.”

Arise reborn, my servant! Now go get me copper.

Still though, there’s a lot more thought than often goes into games like this. It’s not possible to build a base in such a way that blocks off other players from a critical resource. The number of bosses is fairly high, and despite many of them just being random humans, the actual fights feel meaningfully diverse.

I think V Rising’s greatest strength compared to a lot of the other crafting/survival games is how complete the game loop feels. In 60 hours, I think I only looked at a wiki or guide 2-3 times, and I never encountered any jank.

V Rising is $20 on Steam. It’s a pretty good time. If you’re looking for a solid survival game, or a base builder, I feel comfortable recommending it.

Ed Note: Screenshots are blatantly ripped from the Steam Store page, at time of publishing. The game’s UI doesn’t look like this anymore, though. I still think these are decent representations of what V Rising looks like, even if the lighting in the screenshots is a bit nicer.

MultiVersus

MultiVersus is fantastic. If you haven’t heard of it yet because you exclusively read Gametrodon and literally nothing else, thank you for your loyalty! You’ll be given a ranking position in the new regime. If you have already heard of MultiVersus (because you don’t live under a rock), and haven’t played it, or were on the fence about playing it, stick around and maybe I can convince you to try it.

MultiVersus is a platform fighter developed by Player First Games, and published by Warner Brothers. If you’re wondering why I’m mentioning the publisher, don’t worry. It’s relevant. But first let’s quickly talk about platform fighters as a genre. Platform fighters are, for better or worse, defined by Super Smash Brothers. If you’ve never played a platform fighter, there are few things that differentiate them from traditional fighting games.

Platform fighters, like traditional fighting games are 2D games where you use your character’s moves to hit your opponent. As someone who plays both traditionally fighters and platform fighters casually, there are two big differences. The first is that platform fighters are far more open, with mobility much closer to a platforming game. The second is the win condition. In most platform fighters, instead of each character having a set amount of HP, they have a percent value. When you get hit, your percent goes up. The higher your percent, the more knockback you take when you get hit by an attack. But no matter your percent, you don’t actually die until your opponent can knock you off the stage. Finally, platform fighters often have more characters on stage than just the traditional 1v1, and MultiVersus leans into this. The game’s primary game mode is actually 2v2, with many of the characters having abilities that buff or somehow interact with their allies.

Speaking of which. Characters!

The other thing a platform fighter needs to be good is good characters. That’s easy for Smash Bros, which might as well just be the Nintendo “Who’s Who” list for video games even if the list does have some washed up entries. (Seriously, I’m pretty sure Falco and Fox are more relevant as Smash Bros fighters than their series is. And there hasn’t been a new F-Zero game in a million years.)

This is great if you’re Nintendo, but if you have to invent your own characters, like Brawlhalla, or Rivals of Aether, or anyone else in the genre it can be rough. After all, it’s not like you can just go dig up a treasure chest of intellectual property from the 40 years.

Hey, remember how I mentioned this was being published by Warner Brothers, and said the publisher would be relevant later?

Turns out, Warner Brothers has the rights to a lot of stuff.

A lot of stuff.

MultiVersus currently has a seventeen-character roster, which isn’t huge, but let’s look at a few folks in that roster. You have Batman and Superman. You have Shaggy and Velma. You have Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and Wonder Woman. You have Arya Stark, and Lebron James. You have Stephen and Garnet from Stephen Universe, and you have Jake the Dog and Finn the Human from Adventure Time.

If you can read that entire list without going “Wait what” or getting a least a little excited for a moment about the idea of Shaggy absolutely thrashing Batman in hand to hand combat, then please come to my apartment so I can give you your “Least Exposed to Pop Culture” gold medal. I grew up without TV, I still barely watch TV, and I know who these folks are.

Unlike Smash Brothers, though, these characters aren’t from a video game, so it raises the question “How well were they adapted?” Personally, I think they’ve done a pretty good job. Shaggy is this kinetic bruiser, dashing around the stage, doing that funky little leg zoom walk, and tossing sandwiches. Finn is an assassin, charging up these big swipes of his sword and leaping around. From the characters I’ve played, they’re all fun, with their own tricks and traps.

But this does bring up a point I want to cover: I haven’t played everyone, because MultiVersus is F2P, and that means you don’t actually get all the characters. It’s the League of Legends model, where there’s a free rotation of characters, but if you want to unlock a character permanently, you have to buy them with either in game gold, or the premium currency.

This isn’t a particularly evil implementation of F2P, but it does commit a lot of the traditional sins of the model. I don’t want to put too much energy into calling them out here, so instead I’ll give you a quick list of why I don’t like it much:

  1. Premium Currency can only be purchased in specific increments. This means you can only purchase say 1000/2000/3000 of it, but all the characters and skins cost different amounts. So you’ll always have some left over, and if you want to buy more stuff, you’ll have to buy more currency. It’s like the evil video game version of the XKCD nacho cycle.
  2. Skins are expensive, like 15-20 bucks a pop.
  3. There’s a battle pass/daily quest system, so you have that whole FOMO structure, and since a lot of your gold generation is linked to leveling up characters, it’s easy to tell the flow of gold will shut off pretty quickly.
  4. Perks are a gold sink for F2P players.

Oh, that’s right! We haven’t talked about Perks yet. Lets cover them quickly.

Each character in Multiversus has four perk slots, 1 unique one, and 3 generic ones. The unique ones are a non-issue for me. You unlock all unique perks for a character just by playing them. They tend to offer some sort of boost, or change to one of your character’s attacks, but since you can see your opponent’s perk choices before a game, they’re not a big deal.

The generic perks are where I have a problem, not because of what they do, but because of how you acquire them. They tend to offer small buffs to both you and your teammate. As an example, one gives you an additional third jump in the air after you connect a hit. If you and your teammate stack the same buff, you get a better version it. For example, the aforementioned jump perk when stacked just lets you and your teammate have a third jump always available.

But anyway, this isn’t the problem with perks. The problem is that there’s a limited pool of perks you unlock for each character. Then you have to spend gold to unlock the rest, and you have to unlock them on a character by character basis. It’s like a worse version of League of Legends’ old rune system.

The gameplay itself, though, is what carries MultiVersus. And while I might not be a big fighting game person, the friend I played most of my 30 hours with is. To paraphrase his thoughts, while the game is very focused around hitstun and combos, it doesn’t feel super toxic. There’s also a larger focus on mobility, and to quote him directly “The lack of the homogenization of the trinity (grab/shield/stun) and the presence of charged aerials is a significant shift from other platform fighters.”

Personally, I just think smacking folks around in the game feels fun, and even as someone who sucks at fighting, the matchmaking has yet to throw me into a game that I felt like I couldn’t possibly win.

Speaking of matchmaking, let’s talk about the other part of online play: netcode. MultiVersus has some issues, but overall the netcode is far better than, say, Smash Bros online. There are still situations where it feels like your inputs are dropped, but it’s fairly rare.

Overall, MultiVersus is an incredibly fun F2P platform fighter, with a strong (if small roster), and solid mechanics. While it doesn’t commit any special sins of being a F2P game, I feel like it would be better if you could just buy the whole game instead of being hit with the traditional spending traps. That said, I might not have tried it if it cost $40, and that would have been a shame, because I would have missed out on one of the very few games to even try to give Smash Bros a run for its money.

MultiVersus is free to play on PC, PS4/5, Xbox One, and Xbox S.

To preempt the question from the one person I know who will read this article: it’s not available for Switch, and it’s not clear if it will be. Just go grab it for PC. C’mon, it’ll be fun!

Holocure

Holocure is a Hololive-inspired fan game in the shape of Vampire Survivors. If you haven’t heard of Vampire Survivors, it’s a 2D roguelite where you try to survive as long as possible. If you’ve never heard of Hololive/Vtubers, I’d suggest this video by Gigguk. While some of the specifics are bit out of date, the general coverage and explanation of virtual idols is handled really well.

If you’re already into Hololive, Holocure is a fantastic sort of love letter to the talents, and the fandom around them. All the enemies are mascots of the HoloEN branch, and all the items are in-jokes, or reference to various moments from Hololive history. The level of care put into everything is fantastic. I watch a lot of Hololive content, and so perhaps unsurprisingly, I also enjoy Holocure quite a lot.

That said, even if you have no idea what Hololive is, or don’t care to learn, Holocure is still worth checking out for its core gameplay. So let’s talk about that!

You start by picking a character to play as. There are 11 characters, 5 of which are unlocked from the start, and 6 of which can be unlocked with an in-game lottery system (don’t worry, it doesn’t use real money). After this, you’ll pick a game mode. Currently there are two modes, Stage and Endless. In Stage, your goal is to defeat the boss that spawns at 20 minutes, and in Endless, your goal is to just survive as long as possible.

Regardless of which mode you pick, you’ll get dropped into a large field, and the game actually starts. Enemies will spawn in, and move toward you. If they touch you, you lose health. Lose all your health, and it’s game over. When you defeat an enemy, they drop exp. Pick up enough experience, and you’ll level up and get presented a choice of several items and weapons.

This is as good a time as any to cover the aforementioned systems. Each character starts with the first level of their unique weapon, but can hold up to six more. Weapons fire automatically. Some fire in a direction determined by the player, and others fire in a completely random direction. This is actually a good thing, because you don’t have to spend as much time aiming, and can just focus on dodging everything being thrown your way.

In addition to weapons, there are also items and passives. Each character has 3 unique passives they can level without taking up a slot, and 6 items slots. Items have various passive abilities, for example, one gives regenerating shielding, and another buffs your damage if you go an amount of time without being hit.

The end result is that each run of Holocure feels different, while still giving a fair amount of agency in choosing between the various items and weapons that show up to pick from.

As a fangame, Hololive doesn’t cost anything, and you can download it on itch.io here! The game also has an official twitter here, and a larger content patch is expected later this year, sometime around September.