May 25, 2024
A twin-stick shooting, roguelite tootin’ Cyber-Western that spent too much time at the saloon. Dust & Neon is out now for Switch. The Finger Guns review:

Dust & Neon is the first release from David Marquardt Studios. With that context in mind, as I’m writing this review, it starts to put some of my mental gymnastics of the game’s decisions into place. Ask someone what they’d love to make as a first game, chances are at the centre of the Venn diagram you’d see Dust & Neon.

It ticks a lot of boxes for indie staples of the current generation. Roguelites, twin-stick shooters and steampunk are buzzwords that will entice a fair chunk of an audience. It enticed me by the premise and trailer alone, and while Dust & Neon isn’t just snake oil – it’s not quite the smoking gun either.

Once Upon A Time In The West

The game welcomes you to a futuristic version of the Wild West. You awaken out of a chamber in a lab on Exile Keep, assembled by mechanical parts and bio tissue in a human form. The secret ingredient to your creation is rabid rat flesh, as told by your creator Dr. Finkel. Straight off the bat, Dr. Finkel is cursing the “Luddites” that ever doubted he could create such a thing.

Your mission is as unclear as a gambler hat-wearing, steel hockey mask-wielding Cowdroyd; you just do as you’re told. Which is kind of the gist without giving the “story” away too much. Not every game needs to hammer home a motive and while it doesn’t detract from the presentation, it makes it much easier to bounce off knowing there was nothing at stake.

There are robotic bosses after you as you gain notoriety, levelling up as you beat missions. None of them added any personality during my playthrough. Failing a mission and regenerating back in the chamber sees you berated for your failures by Dr. Finkel. Whilst your protagonist has one-liners during levels, they’re generic in every instance. There are arguments to be made that this part of the game is an afterthought to connect some gameplay dots, in service to let the action speak for itself.

Android Unchained

And boy howdy is there some action to be had. The strongest part of Dust & Neon is the core gunslinging loop. Twin-stick shooting is used as a buzzword to get its foot in the swinging doors, but what you’ll find as soon as you start playing is that it’s much more thought out than that. The game plays with an isometric view. Your character automatically ducks behind low walls for cover if walked up to. When you aim your gun a cone appears that’ll bloom if you shoot too fast or move.

What it ends up becoming, is a twin-stick at a base level, but a tactile cover shooter when it sings. On top of that, there is a default manual reload where your firearm (whether it’s a revolver, shotgun or rifle) will pop up to the right of your screen indicating you need to fill it up. Each tap of the ‘X’ button animates a bullet in the chamber, aiding in the feeling of being a true bounty hunter.

The shots are weighty, satisfying and deliberate – turning the idea of an auto-reload and blast away like other twin-sticks on its head. It’s a novel approach, slowing the action down a tad, whilst giving you a roll and a sprint on top of the auto crouch for cover. It’s fundamentally fun to play when everything else is working, but that when is a big if.

A Fistful of Upgrades

The other side of the same coin is the roguelite elements. Your character has a plethora of upgrades split between Combative and Defensive. Whether it’s how many bullets you can hold, or how much health you have, the upgrades are so minuscule that unlocking them feels unfulfilling. You don’t lose any of these upgrades upon death, in fact, the only thing you do lose is your weapon loadout and currency in hand.

If you beat your current missions the cash and upgrade currencies go towards your stash that you won’t lose. So really the only thing gone is the gun in your hand, which you can buy back once you unlock the stall in the hub area that allows you to. As you progress, more of these stalls unlock; One to buy new guns, one to upgrade other stalls, and two stalls that boost your stats for one mission only. You can buy a memory chip or a tonic that’ll increase your abilities incrementally. However, they’re so expensive alongside everything else, they’re hardly worth grabbing.

I understand this is supposed to be a Western, but the in-game economy doesn’t need to represent the depression era. This economy ties back to the mission structure. Each mission has a unique objective – Kill the Targets, Kill All Enemies, Destroy Objectives and most interestingly, a train robbery. Get comfy with these one-note objectives, because you’ll be doing them over and over. The RNG of finding weapons in missions can be gruelling and if you lose a good set of guns upon death, you’ll want to be replaying them to get decent weapons again. It makes the core gameplay a Mexican stand-off with its systems – causing a malfunction.

Spaghetti Lessons

It’s hard to credit Dust & Neon as a roguelite, seeing as everything seems so inconsequential or too pricey to be worth it. You will always have the three different guns at your disposal, the only difference in “builds” are the stats attached to the gun, which are only better or worse than others. No status effects, no unique buffs. It’s all disheartening.

I found myself backtracking through levels looking for weapon crates, only to be disappointed. Most of the time the guns I had were better, even investing some currency to open crates could mean a worse off weapon. Had the hunt for guns been potentially better each time, it would have made the slight explorations worth it. Bosses need you to be at a certain level to be able to fight them, making repeating the levels for the grind a risk barely worth taking outside of the need to progress.

There are two difficulty settings which you can’t change mid-game so if you’re halfway through struggling, be prepared to play from scratch. If the manual reloading isn’t to your liking, you can turn on auto-reload but it goes at a slow and steady pace – forcing the manual reload to be the only real, viable option.

A Few Things To Holla More

Performance for both docked and handheld on Switch is smooth. Though I did notice a lot more screen tears playing handheld. So many tears that if they were a pair of trousers as a kid, my mum would have thrown them out. However, the colours on my OLED Switch really do pop. The mixture of both neon and… dust as contrasting colours brings so much vibrancy to the table.

You’ll be traversing through four distinct areas that are a little more than just colour palette changes. The subtle environment changes from fences to fauna really do make each place stand out. The closer the game leans towards Western iconography, the stronger the design is overall. At least compared to the technological aspects of the later levels which tend to look a little uninspired.

Not to mention the character you play as looks goofy as heck. I understand they’re meant to look a little like Frankenstein’s monster but they do not look like they’d hold up in a saloon fight. With that said though, the majority of the time you see them from the top down, and at that angle, they look like a generic cowboy. Which is similar to every enemy type, they stand out because they’re shiny and chrome but nothing to write home about.


Dust & Neon came with good intentions. I don’t think this came from a place where the studio wanted to tick a load of boxes to cast a wide net. However, there is a lot of crossing of wires in its systems because of the over-extension into multiple genres. Had this game been stripped back to the core gameplay, and made more streamlined, I think it’d come across as having a flawless flow gameplay-wise.

It has an overbearing first few hours that can suck the fun out of the game if you’re not ready for a grind. With that said, if you like the challenge and you want to sit back and click some robot hands with your six-shooter, you will have a good time.

Dust & Neon may be a diamond in the rough for those looking for a unique sci-fi western cover-shooter. However, the roguelite systems do a disservice to the twin-stick shooting gameplay, making it far from the most wanted.

Dust & Neon is out now on Nintendo Switch (review platform), Mobile for Android and PC (Steam)

Developer: David Marquardt Studios

Publisher: Rogue Games Inc., Netflix

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.

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