Lots of puzzles with a cyberpunk adventure on the side.
Tales of the Neon Sea is a pixel-art cyberpunk adventure game with elements of point-and-click and puzzle titles. It’s a nice hybrid, reminding me of Dex but without combat and swarmed with puzzles instead. And when I say swarmed with puzzles, I mean don’t play it if you’re not fond of them. Really, don’t.
Tales of the Neon Sea is centered on Rex, a cyborg ex-cop private detective with drinking problems. At the beginning of the game we’re presented with an end-game scene in which we’re basically told how to play: how to move, how to interact with objects and get information out of the environment and how to navigate documents with character profiles and bits of notes and back story.
We’re then taken to the past, as Rex wakes up in his large, wasted apartment by the alarm clock of his helper robot. After a series of puzzles involving finding tools to repair our robot friend, we finally get to explore a bit of the city: a classic japanese-themed scene taken out of one of its obvious inspirations, Blade Runner.
After we’re presented with a crime scene and we see Rex getting involved in its investigation, we learn about what’s going on in this narrative. An election is closing in and citizens will have to vote between an anti-robot conservative candidate and an actual robot who’s running for mayor. Tales of the Neon Sea isn’t very original in regards to its cyberpunk storyline, with the classic humans vs. robots fight for dominance and the latter seeking to be treated equally as sentient beings.
This first case presents the main plot of the game: a robot is blamed for homicide in a city bursting with inequality and robot rights movements.
So as we follow clues, solve cases and get tasked with petty favours in exchange for valuable information, we see a very cool-looking world flooded in bright neon lights and some crowded backgrounds featuring lore elements and a city that never sleeps.
I don’t know if the goal here was to extend the total game time as much as possible, but the fact that there’s always a puzzle between you and progression gets tiresome. If these were placed at critical points in our adventure then it’d be fine, but sometimes it feels it’s just throwing as many puzzles as it can come up with, even if it means delaying you from getting anywhere.
I don’t mind puzzles and these aren’t what you would call “difficult,” but they’re often annoying and even random in their method. To illustrate this, I’ll add screenshots of three different puzzles I stumbled upon within a range of 10 minutes of gameplay.
These are pretty basic puzzles: rotate the tiles until the light reaches the indicated area, rotate the tiles until the water reaches the indicated area, follow the cables and match the colours on both sides. But their frequency prevents you from enjoying an otherwise beautiful-looking game with a classic cyberpunk atmosphere. They don’t add anything to the story and aren’t thoughtfully spread out through the experience – they’re everywhere.
Other puzzles involve moving platforms in order to reach a certain place above or below you, controlling your pet cat William as he helps you find clues whilst exploring the underworld of the cat society and, the ones which I enjoyed the most, finding clues to solve a crime or mystery.
Let me be clear, as my ramblings may mislead you: I like this game. I think it’s fun and there are rich moments along the way. Meeting new characters and finding out about them and Rex itself is interesting. Reading signs and political posters, eavesdropping on street conversations and chatting with the locals is enjoyable if you like narrative-driven adventures.
And even if the story isn’t as original as I’d like, it has a defined identity and knows what it wants, something not all games can claim. And let me emphasize how good this game looks, with 2D pixel-art blending on some textured lights, vehicles and more. Finally, the adventures of “William the Cat in the Neon Sea” are a valuable addition that allow you to explore deeper into the city. I like my cyberpunks a bit darker and less naïve, but that’s a completely personal preference.
Also, there are some neat references not only to cyberpunk classics like Blade Runner but also to other pop-culture icons like Ai Haibara from Detective Conan as a child that aids us in finding our stolen wallet, and Luigi from the Mario franchise as just a guy in the crowd.
Overall Tales of the Neon Sea looks (and sounds) good and packs a considerable amount of playtime, but the lack of an original take on the genre and the truly annoying puzzles blocking progress can’t be ignored, as the latter takes away much of the atmosphere and immersion.
[Reviewed on PC]
Our boy from Buenos Aires, Juan has been a gamer for as long as he can remember (and possibly even longer than that). He loves a good story, and believes every indie game has a compelling one to tell.