Neon Drive is one of the best music rhythm games on the PS4 because it does the unexpected. The FingerGuns review;
PlayStation gamers have been spoilt with some exceptional rhythm/music games in the past few years such as Thumper, Amplitude & Crypt of the NecroDancer. Now there’s a great new contender that’s raced over from the PC – Neon Drive – and it’s an experimental rhythm game that celebrates the best that the 1980’s had to offer.
I need to state this upfront. Paul was originally going to review this game and Ross has been playing Neon Drive too – neither of them could play it for very long. The game made Paul feel nauseous and sick and it muddled with Ross’ vision. I’ve not experienced either of these issues but it’s easy to see why this game might cause those feelings…
Playing Neon Drive is like being propelled down the barrel of an 80’s inspired kaleidoscope at the speed of an F-14A Tomcat in the hands of Maverick. The game is made up of 8 levels, each inspired by the pastel pastiche and razzle dazzle of the era to make an homage to the pop culture classics. There’s a Back to the Future/Blade Runner inspired level, a G1 Transformers level, a Top Gun level, a few 80’s arcade game levels (which I suspect are Galaga and Asteroids inspired) and a few more.
Each of the 8 levels start with you in a car (carrying the angled aesthetic so prominent of the time, of course), driving down a 4 lane road. The initial challenge of the levels is to avoid the neon obstacles as they come towards you at a rapid pace by swapping lanes. The barriers match the beat of the synth powered music and often follow the power guitar melody left and right. It’s pretty much standard rhythm game fare but a good one at that. Unlike other rhythm games, Neon Drive isn’t driven by high scores or multipliers. It’s a game about surviving what’s thrown at you without making mistakes. In many other rhythm games, if you make a mistake, you lose your multiplier and you carry on. In Neon Drive, if you make a mistake it’s all over. If you’re playing on the Normal difficulty, you get one to make 2 mistakes before the game is restarting you from the start (or a checkpoint if you’ve reached one). On Hard and Insane difficulty (which are the same tracks but played at an increased speed) it’s one and done. Touch one of the obstacles, start again. This can be frustrating when you get hung up on a particular part and have to retry the same segment over and over but it also gives a bigger sense of accomplishment than any other rhythm game I’ve played in years.
That’s not the only unique thing about Neon Drive either. Around half way through each of the 8 levels, Neon Drive switches everything up. It breaks from of the road locked game play and adds something extra to to the experience. In one mission, the car reveals itself as a transformer and the game switches into a runner-esque platformer where you have to jump or duck under obstacles in time to the music. In another level, the car transforms into a fighter jet and the play becomes a wrap around cylinder in midair. Then there’s a Back To the Future/Blade Runner themed level where the Delorean-esque car takes to the sky and has to dodge other oncoming flying traffic. All of the twists that Neon Drive throw at you are innovative and imaginative take on the rhythm genre while retaining the staple mechanics.
The latter half of each level doesn’t always improve the game however. Level 8 of the game changes into a side scrolling shmup which would be fine if the game switched up the control scheme at the same time. Instead, the game still uses the left/right controls to go up and down. This feels awkward and unnecessarily complicates an otherwise enjoyable level.
Then there are the dead ends. During the initial car sections, there are 2 levels which offer branching paths – only some of the branches are dead ends. The dead ends are always at the end of the easiest path and it takes a lot of mental rewiring to force yourself to go in a different direction. These dead ends feel like a cheap, dick move of a way to kill you off. When you’re moving at high speed, it’s difficult to see the dead end when picking the path and it’s too late to avoid them once you’ve spotted them.
Those niggle aside, Neon Drive is an exhilarating road trip through 80’s pop culture, backed by a strong soundtrack full of Kraftwerk vibes, Depeche Mode-esque melodies and a touch of Kenny Loggins for good measure. It’s visually sublime with vivid colours and a stark art style that runs as smooth as a Delorean going 88 mph. The unique structure (at least for a rhythm game) will frustrate some players but it also means that when you finally best a tricky section, it leaves you with a real feeling of achievement. Neon Drive is one of the most pleasantly surprising games I’ve played in 2017 and is one hell of a ride.
Neon Drive is available now on PC, iDevices and PS4 (review version).
Disclaimer: We purchased a copy of Neon Drive in order to complete this review. For more information, please see our review policy.