Eyes on Neon Drive

There’s something to be said for those games that will take a simple concept, distill it down to its purest essence, and then build something beautiful out of it.  Something that’s so simple to talk about, yet so complex in its execution.  You get that in your Tetrises, in your Pac-men, and now, in your Neon Drives.

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We’re going to call Neon Drive, made by the how-the-heck-do-you-pronounce-that developer Fraoula, a ‘Rhythm Driver’ here.  Yeah, we’re breaking the boundaries of genres even as we recreate them.  Ok, not really, because Neon Drive is really just a rhythm game at its core, but it takes place in a car, on a street, you know, driving.  So like I said above, really simple in concept.  At its base level, there four lanes you can move between.  Your car automatically moves forwards, and obstacles come along the path forcing you to switch between lanes in time with the music to avoid them.

And that’s that.  Well, mostly.  Again, really simple in concept.  And yet they make it work.  It’s not an epic experience or anything, but I had a good time with it when I first came across the game a few years ago, and I had a good time with it again when I picked it up just recently.

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The music and aesthetics are a big part of it.  Most of what I know about the 80s, I know from games and movies trying to be deliberately retro, so I’m pretty sure the era was all about neon and sci-fi and synth-heavy soundtracks and that weird segmented sun and really, really bad hair and clothing.  Except for the last bit of it, this game seems to pull it all off well.  Especially the music, that really stands out.  I do have to commend this soundtrack, it’s pumping and driving and manages to not get old even as you listen to the same segments over and over again because this game is really hard.  And it sounds so appropriately 80s, and is tailored really well to the challenges you’re facing in the game.  The music and your movements mesh together so naturally, sometimes it feels like you could get through the obstacles with your eyes closed if you just followed along with the music.

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And then you crash and burn because even with all that, the game is hard.  It’s very heavily skill-based.  It requires reflexes, planning, and absolute precision, and it will make you replay the same sections over and over and over again until you get it right.  It’s interesting how it builds those skills up in you, however.  It can take you a long while to get there, but once you get to the point where you can beat a level, you’ll be able to do it again and again like nothing.  I remember, it took me about two hours to beat all seven levels when I first played the game a few years ago, a feat the developers have stated makes me certifiably superhuman.  I hadn’t touched the game at all in the interim, but picking it up again here, I was able to move through that same set of levels with very little trouble.

Then I got to the new 8th level.  That one is absolutely brutal.  I hate that this game keeps track of how many times you’ve tried but failed, because I truly embarassed myself on the last one.  If you can beat that one, you’re a better Neon Driver than I.

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It is pretty short.  There’s only 8 levels, and if you can get through them in a single go, each level only takes you about two minutes.  I feel like it makes full use out of being compact, though.  Each level switches up the gameplay somehow halfway through, whether by switching perspectives, turning the obstacles into oncoming traffic, transforming your vehicle entirely, etc., and each one does it in a different way.  Again, I finished it my first go around in about two hours.  The 8th level can extend that some, if you’re going to put in the time to get through it.

And, you know what?  That’s all I’ve got to say about that.  It probably comes across a lot better in action than it does in spoken word, so check this out to see a bit of what I’ve been going through.  

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13 responses to “Eyes on Neon Drive

  1. This actually sounds pretty cool, although from your description and the video I get some distinct “The Impossible Game” vibes, and man, that game is so much fun and so brutal all at the same time. I never made it past level one with that one….

    More power to you for beating it! Maybe I’ll consider checking it out if I’m feeling daring…

    • So much fun, and so brutal, indeed. I haven’t played the Impossible Game, but yeah. I spent a lot of my time beating my head again and again against the same pattern, only to finally build the skills required and cruise through it easily. It’s good for skill-building, at least.

  2. Sounds like a vaporwave version of Audiosurf. Is that even the right term to use? Anyway, this looks worth checking out.

    • I think that’s a really accurate way of describing it. Not quite as expansive as Audiosurf, of course, but seems to be hitting the same notes.

  3. I (tried) to play Neon Drive last year but failed miserably – I just don’t have the coordination to make it through more than the first couple of levels. But that soundtrack though. Absolutely love it.

  4. That minimalistic approach you speak of is precisely why I think Undertale, OneShot, and Celeste are exemplary indie titles. I’ve never heard of this game, but I think I would be interested in checking out a good racing game that isn’t called Mario Kart, so I might end up looking into this one.

    • I used to feel the same way about Mario Kart DS. Even back then, all over the place you’d get people ditching the game just before they lost to avoid getting the L on their record.

  5. I really liked the aesthetic of this game. Is this on steam ? And is the music pretty good . I’m a big fan of groups like Gunship , Trevor Something , and Pertubator .

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