I don’t know if you all realize this about me, but I LOVE platformers. I enjoy a ton of different game genres, sure. But there is always room in my heart for a new platformer. But one sub-genre stands out for me; the Minimalist Platformer.
Minimalist platformers typically remove the trappings of characters with detailed back stories and motivations, heavy plot details, or dialogue, and instead use primarily simple geometric shapes for the visuals. If that sounds too boring, then Neoncube will definitely not be for you. However, if you enjoy platformers that test your skill and reflexes, read on.
Game Play and Mechanics: 7
Technically speaking, Neoncube is a “minimalist puzzle platformer”. If you are wondering what the difference is, it’s that levels in a typical platformer are simply courses to be traversed that may or may not have hazards that can impede your path. Levels in a puzzle platformer are themselves puzzles to be solved. Solving the puzzle, often while avoiding hazards, allows you to traverse the level and progress through the game.
Levels are simple mazes made up of squares, illuminated only by various objects in the level, often hazards such as what I presume to be lava, various types of cannons, or by the player themselves. The player can also emit an occasional Neon Blast that sends a wave of light through the level to help you plan your approach.
There are various objects such as switches, movable blocks that can be carried or pushed, squares that can slow time if activated with a Neon Blast, etc. In addition there are other hazards, such as disappearing blocks that create a nice sense of “do or die” in certain levels.
The gameplay is nice, however I will admit that at times the controls are a bit sluggish. There is a small, split second delay in action I see when I try to jump. Once I got use to it, I learned to compensate for it, but before then it was a major headache. Press the jump key too late and instead of jumping, you just continue forward and slide off the platform and quite possibly into a hazard. It’s not bad enough to be game breaking for me, but I can understand if it is for others.
Boss battles are simple, yet effective. Trial and error with just a dash of luck will be the name of the game. They are difficult, but definitely beatable.
In addition to the basic level set, Neoncube also includes a level editor, and the ability to publish level packs on the SteamWorkshop. Naturally, this extended the playtime considerably, as well as adding varying difficulty to the gameplay, as the challenge in the published packs ranges from moderate to brutal.
Visual Style and Quality: 7
The thing about minimalist platformers is that, by definition, they don’t have much to work with in terms of visuals. One could make the case that this exempts games like Neoncube from being scored in this category. However, there is more here than meets the eye.
It’s not a case of how little a developer has to work with, but how effectively the available tools are used. Neoncube is nothing but simple geometric shapes, yes. However, the use of color and light keep things visually interesting. Neon blasts send out a smooth ripple of light that’s visually pleasing. A simple effect, but well done.
Also, you have a simple set of customization options for your Cube. It’s adds a little touch of personality in the midst of a world of right angles.
Overall, Neoncube creates a simple, pleasant aesthetic that uses it’s chosen tool set well. While not the most stunning minimalist platformer, it is still nice to look at.
Sound Quality: 5
I wish there was more to say about the sound quality. The music and sound effects are clear and crisp, and well made at that. However, the music itself is lacking in variety. I found myself having to to turn it off after a while due to the repetition.
This is somewhat disappointing, seeing as many stand out minimalist platformers excel in terms of the soundtrack. A beautiful, well produced sound track combined with a visual style lacking in busy distractions is what has set the genre apart. I wish that were the case here, but unfortunately it’s not.
Again, the music and sound effects are not poorly done. However, you still might grow tired of the soundtrack as I did.
Multiplayer Elements: 5
Let me get this out of the way. To play the Multiplayer Campaign, you need Hamachi. Several members of the XRP Crew tell me that they were notified that LogMeIn no longer offers free VPNs for up to 5 people. However, even if this is not the case, needing a third-party client to access the multiplayer features in this day and age is just a major no-go for me, and thus I have no choice but to deduct points for this. If using Hamachi doesn’t bother you the same way, then feel free to consider this category an 8.
Once I was able to get a multiplayer game started with fellow XRP Editor Friskies, we had a good time. The gameplay is practically the same, but the need to cooperate adds to the fun. For those who don’t have access to a Voice Over IP (VOIP) Client like TeamSpeak, you can use the mouse to “ping” the screen. This places a target reticle to indicate a path or object that your co-op partner needs to pay attention too.
Some of the levels can be pretty tricky, and at times one player will have an easy path, while the other has the more hazardous route. I’d advise staying on your toes, however, if you get the easier path. Often once the other player navigates their hazards, you’ll need to move quickly.
Lastly, there is an unfortunate occasional glitch where lag would cause the joining player to fall out of sync with the host, causing enemies to be in different positions, and rendering movable object immobile. If this happens to you, restarting the level is the only solution.
Fun Factor: 7
The appeal of Neoncube, like many minimalist platformers, rests in the challenge. Timing, speed, and precision are key, and therein lies the fun. Many deceptively simple levels contain puzzles that will take several tries to master, and there is a real sense of satisfaction when you do.
I would say this is a bit of a safe bet for those who might be on the fence about trying a more challenging platformer, since the levels aren’t punishing or brutal. This is far from a rage game, and the levels are fairly short in comparison to other examples of the genre. It can be worth checking out for those wanting to dip their toe in the water, so to speak.
Replay Value: 8
Aside from the near infinite possibilities that the level editor brings, I did find repeat playthroughs of the built in levels to be increasingly fun. Returning to a level that killed me ten or fifteen times and gliding through like a boss is satisfying to say the least.
Add in the availability of Level Packs, the ability to create your own levels, plus multiplayer levels, and fans of the genre will more than get their money’s worth with Neoncube.
While I don’t think Neoncube is groundbreaking or adds anything innovative to the genre, what it does, it does well. The slight sluggishness in the controls didn’t prevent me from enjoying it, and for puzzle platformer fans, there is a lot of replay value to be had.
Put simply, if you enjoy it when a game doesn’t hand you the answer, or when it requires you to move decisively with accuracy and precise timing, you might enjoy Neoncube. If that doesn’t describe you, but you are curious about the genre and want to give it a try, Neoncube is certainly priced right for experimenting.
NEONCUBE retails for $0.99US and is available HERE.