For folks of a certain age, pixel-art action games feel as nostalgic as the electric hum of an arcade cabinet. The vibrant colours, the simplistic yet detailed environments, the feeling that you’re playing something from your youth – it’s all there, wrapped in a modern sheen. Neon City Riders strives to tick those boxes, and while it succeeds on a number of fronts, you can never shake the feeling that, nostalgia aside, you’ve been here before. Sadly, when compared to other like-minded endeavours, Riders ultimately falls short. But of course, that’s definitely not for a lack of trying.
The premise of Neon City Riders steers clear of needless complexity and instead gives you a simple goal: defeat four gangs that control the Blade Runner-inspired city in the unspecified but not-so-distant future. After spending some time in a virtual reality game that introduces you to the many incredible powers you’ll utilize throughout your adventure, the game cruelly rips those skills away (courtesy of the game’s big bad villain) and plonks you down in the real world sans all those wonderful skills you spent a few minutes acquiring. You’ll get them back, of course, but it will take some time.
Neon City Riders gives you the freedom to tackle the gangs in any order. It’s an illusion of freedom, as tackling one before another definitely gives you an advantage. Additionally, you’ll encounter areas that require you to possess a specific skill before you can move forward. In short: it’s a tad misleading. Fortunately, the game’s challenging combat and tight controls keep things interesting. However, button mashers need not apply; Neon City Riders forces you to make use of all the skills at your disposal. If you end up getting your face pounded into the pavement, that’s on you.
In addition to smacking around a colourful array of mischievous foes, you’ll also spend a fair amount of time nabbing side quests. Sadly, most of these missions follow the formula garden-variety fetch quests, which, aside from allowing you to explore the game’s richly detailed world, don’t introduce anything remotely interesting or exciting. And don’t get too excited about spending the money you earn. While you can purchase different types of food to keep your hero in tip-top shape, each item does the same thing. Why opt for ramen over anything else? It doesn’t really matter.
Disappointingly, Neon City Riders never fully utilises the city your hero calls home. The area features tons of arcade machines, buildings, shops, and cool pop-culture references, but you can’t really interact with any of it. This makes the artwork feel like nothing more than colourful set dressing that desperately needs another layer of interactivity. For a game that reminds you to explore, it never truly gives you a reason to do so – outside of another bowl of ramen and a random fetch quest, of course.
Neon City Riders succeeds as a brawler that will put your arcade skills to the test. However, as an open-world adventure, the game falls short. Giving players a charming, pixel-art city to explore only works if you fill that space with interesting things to accomplish. As much as I love beating up punks as a guy in a hockey mask, I wish the developers gave my hero something to do when he needs a moment to unwind. At the end of the day, Neon City Riders scratches one itch while leaving the other untouched.
Neon City Riders £17.99
Neon City Riders definitely scores points as a tough, uncompromising, pixel-art-based brawler. Unfortunately, as an open-world adventure, it’s simply too hollow and empty to satisfy players with a desire to explore every nook and cranny.