In the two weeks since its April 20 launch, side-scrolling roguelike Neon Echo has racked up over 1,800 89% positive Steam reviews, and after trying it for myself I can see why. It plays like Chinese electric Hades, and it positively whips.
Neon Echo is only just starting its early access journey under developer and self-publisher Xinyuan Studio, but it's already a must-play in my book. Its Hades inspirations are clear in the way you draft abilities – choosing between elemental vinyl tracks instead of godly boons – and chart a course through branching, procedurally generated dungeons assembled from over 400 areas, but it's got a style all its own and the neurons of my brain can hardly keep up.
You play as a Resonancer in a vibrant, pearlescent tech metropolis that's been besieged by monsters of the "noise," and EDM is the only cure. Beyond the thumping soundtrack, electronic music oozes through every facet of the game, from combat right down to the menus. There are three playable Resonancers so far: a blademaster, gunner, and boxer. They all have cute little chibi models during gameplay, but Resonancers and even side characters get stunning anime illustrations for cutscenes.
I've only tried the blademaster so far, but it's hard to imagine playing anything else. Neon Echo immediately feels good to play. The blademaster's got a quick basic attack, a dodge that triggers a frenetic counter when you evade at the last second, a low-cooldown skill that hits harder when you fire it just on the downbeat of the music, and two special attack meters that fill as you deal damage.
Attacks are fast and devastating, making short work of most enemies with satisfying splashes of color and sound. The blademaster's special lets you spam the dodge while dealing heavy damage, and her ult summons a massive greatsword to cleave the screen, and anything on it, into crystalline shards. Popping your ult also ups the tempo of the music, and the resulting audio-visual spectacle is borderline intoxicating. This is probably about as close to synesthesia as games can get.
Roguelikes usually live or die on progression for me, and by taking notes from Hades, Neon Echo's cooked up an engrossing system of permanent unlocks. Its narrative doesn't have the same appeal as SuperGiant's masterwork – and an occasionally rough English translation doesn't help, though the excellent Mandarin voice work gives it some life – but the essentials are here. You choose different buffs, items, collectibles, and elemental bonuses mid-run, then take all the currency you earn back to base to power up for future attempts. I've only beaten one boss but it's already clear to me that you can make some bonkers builds with the right combinations, and I can't wait to push this effervescent combat to its limit.
We were also quite impressed with the roguelite many fans call "Hotline Miami's cooler older brother."