There is no denying that Neon Sundown is chasing a trend that Vampire Survivors helped bring back into focus: The quick rogue-lite-esque survival game. And y’know what? I’m okay with that.
GENRE: Neon twinstick survival shooter
So, like I said earlier: This game is very much in the same vein as Vampire Survivors. You pick a level, and you see how long you can survive. The key difference between this and Vampire Survivors though is that you take a much more active role in your attacking, as Neon Sundown goes the twinstick route. So what does that mean? It basically means what we have here is best described as “A little bit Vampire Survivors, a little bit Geometry Wars.”
The gameplay and loop is honestly perfect for pick up and play sessions, which has definitely helped earn it a spot as a time killer in my list of “games when I want to play for a few minutes as opposed to hours.” Thankfully, it does enough to set itself apart from the two games it takes inspiration from, especially since surviving beyond 10 minutes in a level is a massive challenge.
When you start out, you’ll only have access to one basic ship and a few upgrades that you pick from as you level up: Yeah, familiar territory here, I know. The big thing about this one is that as you gain EXP, you both level up your ship for the current run, and earn EXP towards rank upgrades that permanently unlock new content like ships, levels, and upgrades that can be chosen on level up. And the upgrades definitely offer you plenty of build variety.
What keeps powerups interesting is that they’re divided into several categories, some upgrade your main gun, some give you additional weapons beyond the main gun, and some add a secondary attack. But wait, there’s more! As you rank up, you’ll unlock Synergies, powerful upgrades that require hitting max level of a pair of specific upgrades, then getting a Red Crystal to drop from enemies. Crystals are random drops that can restore health, give bonus XP, or as mentioned…Activate a synergy if the required upgrades are max level. Synergies are game changers, and a vital part of making a good build: Which you definitely need to do as quickly as possible. One of the big things about this game compared to Vampire Survivors is you are racing the clock from the getgo. While Vampire Survivors typically gives you more than enough time to make a strong build in a run, Neon Sundown expects you to do it ASAP, as things ramp up *MASSIVELY* once you get past the ten minute mark.
There is one particular thing about Neon Sundown I have to admit really sets it apart though, which is the arenas. While Vampire Survivors’ stages feel quite samey aside from a couple having specific focuses of vertical or horizontal movement, enemies are all just the “approach you and do contact damage” variety, though that’s improved slightly in newer levels.
Neon Sundown on the other hand, has specific enemy groupings for specific arenas, typically themed based on the arena itself. You’ve got one with high speed enemies, one focused on mine layers, one with enemies that specialize in shielding others, and one with a giant, invincible spinning death blade that is pursuing you for the entire run. So when you pick a stage, you don’t just have to plan a one size fits all build, as some may demand more immediate DPS, some may demand more survival focus. This variety is part of what helps keep the game fun and not get stale: Not that VS gets stale, it has absolutely insane build variety, but I feel like that’s its biggest strength which compensates for other weaknesses. Neon Sundown tries to keep variety in more than just its builds, and that’s something I particularly like about it.
A nod to the music as well. It’s an electronic synth style that definitely goes well with the whole Neon theme, and I am a sucker for a good synth soundtrack.
When all’s said and done, Neon Sundown could easily be accused of chasing the trend Vampire Survivors started, but frankly? I don’t care about originality versus if the game is fun to play or not, and Neon Sundown is definitely fun. It’s great when you’re looking for a survival vs hordes arcade type thing that gives you more active control over it, and where death can come much, MUCH faster if you aren’t careful. Make no mistake, this game is WAY harder than Vampire Survivors, but that just makes it feel more rewarding to play. It’s a game where every minute you survive past the 10 minute mark is an accomplishment, where long runs give you a feeling of “Wow, I lasted that long this time?”
I guess you could say that’s part of why I like this as an alternative to Vampire Survivors. Some days: You just want to watch things easily die by the tens of thousands. Other days you want to live on the edge and push yourself, and that’s exactly what Neon Sundown will make you do.
Long story short? If you liked Geometry Wars, or twin-stick shooting in general? Yeah, pick this up, and see how long you can last.