Switch version tested
Review code provided
Neon Caves is the latest offering from our friends over at UK based indie studio Force of Habit. This release marks their second time of hitting the Nintendo eShop and follows in the footsteps of the excellent Toast Time: Smash Up! which we had the pleasure of testing at the end of 2018. You can read our review here.
This game started life as an offshoot from Toast Time and made is debut in 2014 on the highly touted but ultimately doomed Ouya console. It’s great to see Neon Caves getting a fresh chance of success on everyone’s favourite portable home console with some decent quality of life enhancements, including an online leaderboard. Let’s dig in.
You control a small vessel manned by a research team exploring the caves fragile ecosystem entombed in a lost world. The gameplay loop is a simple enough concept, survive wave upon wave of enemy encounters as the difficulty level increases with each. What starts off as a casual bit of shoot and gun action soon becomes an intense and frantic joyride to the finish line. Rounds can last just a few seconds or a lifetime depending on your skill, with a little bit of luck thrown in.
The key to success is in mastering the ship’s ability to use its weapons as a means of propulsion while best utilising its anchor to lock a position in times when accuracy is essential. The ship fittingly moves around the screen akin to a squid, leave it anchored for too long and it will shoot off bumping around within a blink of an eye. Scores can be boosted by hitting the big combos.
There are power-ups to collect which offer a number of different bonuses, rapid-fire, bombs or invincibility, all of which come in handy to fend off the impending onslaught. A sense of sheer urgency is brought kicking and screaming to the forefront by the appearance of four mystical shards. The shards must be collected within the given time limit, indicated by a depleting bar, otherwise it’s game over as the caves become unstable and collapse trapping you.
The ship has a three-hit health system so it helps to be prudent. Rocks fall, enemies chase you down and shots are fired in your direction. Pretty much anything that moves is out to get you. If you are eagle-eyed there are opportunities to regain lost health by holding the ship steady for a set amount of time in the randomly appearing safe zones.
Initially, gameplay centres around a single screen and works perfectly on the Switch in handheld mode. Visually the cave is dark and creepy, with a super simplistic but clean looking retro vibe that is contrasted by a bright surrounding neon cave system. Things seem relatively straight forward until in the later stages where the cave begins to expand and crumble. This adds a whole new element to the gameplay as movement becomes even more important.
Neon Caves controls in a similar fashion to Toast Time – fire in any direction, movement by a recoil action and hit the trigger button to lock the ship in place for a limited amount of time. Everything works extremely well and is intuitive. My initial strategy was to anchor the ship in the centre of the screen for as long as possible, although with practice the movement mechanic becomes second nature and zipping around to collect the shards can be more beneficial, plus firing from close range gives greater accuracy.
The game is complete with 28 in-game achievements which gives an added layer and keeps you playing for longer just to unlock them. The online leaderboard is a great addition because we all want to be number one! In the main menu there is an option to turn on the vlambeer effect but seriously it hurts as the screen violently shakes, it’s worth turning on if you think you are a pro gamer.
Neon Caves builds on the sentiment delivered in Toast Time and takes it for a spin. The visuals are clean and crips appealing to the retro gamer and is an audio treat. What seems like an easy concept soon tests your instincts and hand-eye coordination. We cannot recommend this enough, especially at its budget price point. It is an essential purchase for those looking for a challenge that will leave you thirsty for one more play.