Tales of the Neon Sea is one of the most entertaining puzzle games that I’ve played so far on my PC this year. I’m glad I had the chance to play it as I was instantly captivated by its colourful theme, entertaining puzzles, and interesting storyline. I think I’d go as far as saying that I had ‘too’ much fun playing it as I literally couldn’t stop once I’d started!
One thing to keep in mind is that so far there are only three chapters which have been released, but future chapters will be released as a free DLC. Although this means that Tales of the Neon Sea is incomplete right now, the first three chapters already give a good impression of its gameplay and story. However, I’ve not yet experienced the full story, so my review is based upon what’s available as of the 20th May 2019.
The story revolves around Rex, a retired police officer who now works as a private detective when he isn’t drinking his life away in a bottle of booze. He resides within a Neon-filled city which never sleeps, a city filled with both robots and humans, both of which depending upon one another to live thanks to the sentient nature of the mechanical citizens. The introduction to the game begins at the end of our story, much like Irony Curtain, teaching you the controls whilst offering a confusing, yet exciting, look at the turn of events which are yet to come.
Once you reach the end of this prologue, you’re taken to the actual beginning of the story, back in your apartment where you reside with your own helper bot. Explaining any more of the story will most likely spoil the narrative and experience, so all I’ll say is there’s murder, inequality, political agendas, and lots of sci-fi cyberpunk visuals.
One thing which really surprised me about Tales of the Neon Sea is that it has such an interesting story which managed to totally captive me. I just wanted to find out more about its wonderful world, even the individual cases started to really intrigue me. Of course, a lot of things are kept mysterious as key information gets slowly revealed as you progress, which led to me getting hooked by its story even more. While the opening scene doesn’t really make sense at first, it was so major that it stuck in my mind for my entire playthrough. Seriously, I was constantly wondering about how the situation I was in, at any given point, would result in what I initially saw when I started the game. The entire story managed to amaze me every step of the way.
Sci-Fi was always a theme I absolutely adored and Tales of the Neon Sea managed to nail its cyberpunk theme perfectly. The relationship between humans and robots was displayed so realistically that I actually imagine similar scenarios would occur if robots happen to develop their own consciousness in real life. You’ll uncover more information about the robots, and the constant dispute between them and the humans, as you progress through the narrative. In a way, the cyberpunk world which Palm Pioneer has created isn’t that different to our own…
As previously aforementioned, Tales of the Neon Sea is primarily a puzzle game, which might put some people off if they’re looking for more action. I personally found the puzzles super entertaining and had a lot of fun trying to solve them. The game is quite linear and you won’t be able to progress the story until you’ve completed a puzzle – there’s a lot of puzzles. Aside from standard puzzles, which come in many varieties, you can also find out what happened at various crime scenes and investigation points by investigating an item or dead people. In these, you can pick up items, combine them together, read documents, and piece together what happened.
Every puzzle is different from one another and never felt repetitive at all. Some puzzles require patience, observation or logical reasoning in order to be able to solve them successfully, some might even take you a few tries to succeed.
That being said, one thing that slightly annoyed me about the puzzles is that you have to go back and forth in order to solve some of them, thus making it easy to get lost or confused with what you’re trying to do. Due to the requirement of interacting with items or people in the right order, the next step might be in an area you’ve already searched previously, so I had to run around a lot whilst trying to find out what I was supposed to do next.
The perspective changes at times and you will be able to control Rex’s cat, William. While William seems like your average cat, he’s not, he takes an important role in some of Rex’s investigations. While it sounds weird at first that you’re playing a cat, it actually made sense within the narrative of the story and I have to admit, I had fun walking around as a cat talking to other felines. This change of perspective was really refreshing as the puzzles were also constructed differently, since a cat is not able to interact with objects the same way humans do. While playing as William, you’ll also be jumping on shelves and climbing through shafts in order to help Rex at certain points. This was a mechanic I wasn’t expecting, but I’m glad it’s part of the game.
Something that’s really obvious, and goes without saying, is that Tales of the Neon Sea looks simply stunning. While it is retro styled with pixel art, the visuals are very colourful and bright, which perfectly compliments the cyberpunk theme. Tales of the Neon Sea certainly shows that it is possible to create something beautiful out of a simple art style, even the soundtrack was very fitting and pleasant to listen to.
I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed Tales of the Neon Sea, it delivered so much more than I was expecting. Not only do you get a good storyline which manages to hook you until the end, but you also get a wide variety of puzzles, investigations, interactions and fun gameplay. Tales of the Neon Sea is an indie game which deserves much more coverage and exposure as it’s such a great game, even though it’s technically incomplete right now.
I can easily recommend Tales of the Neon Sea to anyone who enjoys puzzles and appreciates a good story. Even if you’re only somewhat interested in puzzles, please play this wonderful game as it’s one of a kind.