Impulse Indie Review: Arcade of Neon

Impulse Indie is a new series where I download and review the very first indie game that I see. The inaugural game is the first game of 2013 on XBLIG – Arcade of Neon by Ivatrix, available for only 80 MSP. If you’re interested in having your game reviewed, please send an e-mail to

I feel like a horrible person already.arcade of neon box

I haven’t written that many game reviews yet on Gigaloth, and the ones that I have written so far have been of games that I have absolutely loved. A-Band was definitely a solid choice. Apple Jack 2 is one of the most underrated indie games available, and my list of the top ten XBLIG games of 2012 were all games that I obviously enjoyed.

So I’m about to go outside of my comfort zone here, because Arcade of Neon just wasn’t that good.

It hasn’t really been a great year, and I’m completely stressed out about getting Produce Wars finished. It’s probably a bad idea to review a game in a bad mood, especially a random game completely on a whim, so please understand up front that this game probably isn’t as bad as I make it out to be.

It’s not that the game idea doesn’t have potential. It does. It’s just boring and unfair. I would rather be standing in line at the DMV or lying on my bed counting the dimples in the ceiling than be forced to sit down and play Arcade of Neon (AoN) again.

Arcade of Neon 1 The basic gameplay is that you are this ring that can change colors by using the ABXY buttons. Rings come at you from the edges of the screen, and the object is to collect rings that are the same color as you to gain points. The basic idea has been done before with Dot Dash, which developer Mitchell Davies is well aware of because he talks about it on his development blog in an article about “BS-proofing” your game from common bullshit that pisses the player off.

Ironically, the “common bullshit” is the reason this game pissed me off.

What’s funny is that his article is good. It’s REALLY good. He’s spot on about all of his points, and you can tell that a lot of thought went into the spawning patterns of the rings in AoN. I actually plan on linking that article here, so more devs see it.

The problem is that he didn’t follow his own advice.

The biggest issue is that when the player reaches a certain threshold of points (roughly 25,000 or so), the game literally becomes impossible, and the flood of bullshit hits you like all-you-can-eat burrito night. The rings start coming at you so fast, that it is literally impossible to react, and your lives drain away faster than Mass Effect’s fan base.

Arcade of Neon 3At first, I thought I might just suck at the game, but I took the liberty of timing some of the rings to see how long it takes them to travel from the top of the screen to the bottom (because widescreen makes those infinitely more dangerous than the ones that come from left to right). Some took no more than one second, which means if you are in the center of the screen you have about a half second to react. Considering it takes about a tenth of a second for your brain to absorb the information, and another tenth to send signals to your hands to get the frak out of the way or change colors, you are left with an endless barrage of low-percentage situations which quickly engulfs you.

Let’s put it this way. I’m going to put you in a batting cage with a pitching machine that releases a 90 MPH fastball every second, and when you miss three, you’re done.

It’s kind of like that.

Because of this, I found myself timidly hiding directly in the center of the screen and collecting only the rings that come from the left and right instead of reacting organically and actually playing the game. This reaction was out of pure necessity against bullshit, not lack of skill.

There’s even an option in the menu to turn “AntiBS” on or off, which apparently was a joke because I couldn’t tell any difference.

Arcade of Neon 2And that’s not to mention the other game modes, which compared to the normal mode, are like gouging your own cerebellum out with a spoon because they are so dreadfully boring. Most other modes are so slow and boring that you never get to the point where it is challenging (I’m talking to you Table Tennis). You sit for five or more minutes dodging slow circles waiting for a new-colored star to appear (for example). In the best game modes, you just wait to hit 25,000 points where you will be promptly gang-raped.

Sometimes you can get away with these shenanigans if your game has awesome graphics or soundtrack. Arcade of Neon doesn’t. The music actually wasn’t bad, but I would’ve liked the tracks to cycle instead of loop. The graphics were…um…let’s just say they don’t detract from the game, but they certainly don’t add to it. Some particle effects (any!), an interesting background, or even more than two different sound effects would go a long way to improving the player’s experience.

All of this, and there is still hope for Arcade of Neon.

Arcade of Neon 4There’s one, big, whoppin’ change that would make Arcade of Neon instantly playable and (gasp!) fun: increase the playable area. This could be done by zooming the camera out to about 150-200% to where it is at now. Allow the player the ability to anticipate incoming rings, because it’s still going to be pretty damn difficult to change colors rapidly and dodge effectively. There just needs to be some way – anything – for the player to see what is coming. This would put the onus back on player performance, and make it challenging instead of unfair.

The other major improvement would be to adjust the game modes so the difficulty-to-time ratio scales correctly. The fact that during half of the game modes I was playing another game on my iPad at the same time and not suffering in performance at all goes to show that some modes just don’t require any focus, interest, or immersion (Table Tennis, Star Collector, Stationary, Hunted, Fixed).

Empirically, the game is still worth a dollar – most games are. Comparatively, you could find much better games to randomly try out for a dollar on XBLIG. If Ivatrix decides to patch or update the game, I would definitely revisit it. If Ivatrix doesn’t change a thing, I’ll probably never play it again.

Controls are responsive. Not too tight, and not too loose.
Unique gameplay mechanic of switching colors keeps you on your toes.

Playing the game is like going to prison. The first few days are uneventful, then out of nowhere you get cornered in the shower.
Most game modes are boring or pointless.
Close quarters and lack of player anticipation make the game randomly unfair.
Graphics, music, and sound leave something to be desired.
No multiplayer mode.

Do you agree or disagree with me? Send an e-mail to or drop a line to me on Twitter. You can also comment directly here, I guess.


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