Cyberpunk investigation game Tales of the Neon Sea is neon noir given a bright, cartoonish re-imagining. There are also some cats thrown in, for good measure.
Developed by Palm Pioneer and published by Beijing-based Zodiac Interactive, Tales of the Neon Sea released this month to a positive reception. The detective adventure game puts a bright, pixelated spin on the traditionally dark cyberpunk narrative and peppers it with enough robots and cat gangs to create a whole world of its own.
A New Take on an Old Story
We’re all familiar with the age-old trappings of the cyberpunk genre, from Blade Runner to Deus Ex: the grizzled private investigator with a traumatic past. The uncomfortable relationship between people and technology. A setting that blends American and East Asian cultures. A vague sense of existential doubt.
Tales of the Neon Sea takes these tropes and repackages them into a delightfully quirky take on the genre.
We still have our hard-boiled detective, Mr. Mist, as dissolute and disillusioned as ever. As you‘d probably expect, he was once a veteran police officer who now spends his days indulging his vices and taking on detective jobs to pay the bills. But this time he has a partner – a little black street cat called William.
The technological dystopia takes the form of a massive city, whose neon lights belie a corrupt underbelly. The city, known as the Neon Sea, is inhabited by a colorful cast of AI robots. Humans and robots depend on each other for survival, despite mounting tensions.
Our detective snaps out of his drunken stupor when he finds himself entangled in a murder case that could mean finding a notorious killer who escaped justice a long time ago. As Mist probes further into the case, he begins to unlock his own repressed memories, and his search for the truth will uncover a conspiracy that runs deep through the city.
Cats and Clues
Tales of the Neon Sea hearkens back to the 2D adventure games of times gone by. Much of the gameplay revolves around investigating crime scenes, talking to people to get information, and finding clues. In crime scene investigations you’ll inspect every inch of a corpse for causes of death, residue, and other morbid matter.
The game is packed with a ton of clever puzzles to solve in order to progress. These range from simple wiring problems to some that are insanely complex, with multiple stages. Be warned though: some of the English translations are written in a way that makes a few instructions for the puzzles difficult to decipher.
And all of that‘s just as a mere human. As the street cat William, you’re able to fit into much smaller spaces than man or machine, leaving you free to go off and have your own adventures. A William section is something of a platformer, with you bouncing up scaffolding and navigating the hazards of tall apartment blocks.
William is often tasked with purloining useful items and his sections make a fun diversion from the grim murder storyline. As you seek help from the feline criminal underground, you’ll come across an array of adorable cats with unique designs. These kitties usually have their own agenda, and you’ll have to please them first before they’ll give you what you’re after.
Embrace the Glow of the Neon Sea
One of the game’s strengths is its beautiful visuals. The stunning pixel art bursts with personality and virtually everything in the city glows with fluorescent light. From billboards to characters, you’ll see little nods to pop culture dotted throughout the world.
Character designs are simple but unique, especially robots and cats. Even simple walking animations have a fluid, bouncy feel, adding an unexpected sense of fun to the dystopian city.
The pixelated art style also does a surprisingly good job of capturing the gore of the murder victims. Despite all the pets and brightly-colored robots, this means you probably couldn’t call the game child-friendly. The moody soundtrack needs a shout-out too, as the retro synth music only adds to the game’s neon aesthetic.
Tales of the Neon Sea takes an already popular genre, known for its dark subject matter and flips it to create a fresh and exciting world. It hasn’t been out long and has already risen to popularity. The game is the first chapter in an intended series so we can expect to stay tuned for the next installment.
Tales of the Neon Sea is available to play now on Steam.