It's like the universe, but... NEW.
I am all over the place with this one. I don't think I've ever had such difficulty figuring out how I felt about a game, and all this for a plucky little indie that would completely fly under the radar in any other circumstance. So let's start at the beginning.
Topple That Tower
Neoverse is, to be blunt, a Slay the Spire clone. Now, that's not a bad thing at this point; we've seen so many variations on the roguelike-deckbuilder that it clearly needs its own genre name. But until such time, I am like the critics of old who had to call every FPS a Doom Clone. Such is life.
Now, anyone that read my article about gaming in 2020 would know that Slay the Spire managed to trip the loose wires in the back of my brain that are only supposed to fire off when there's a large animal trying to eat me. So suffice to say, I had a bit of...trepidation about playing a clone, or much of anything in the genre.
And yet Neoverse didn't cause that same effect for me. I've been doing a lot of thinking about why that is. Some of it, I imagine, is the art; We'll be discussing this game's art style later on, but certainly it doesn't have the same suffocating darkness as Slay the Spire. Even something as simple as its use of 3D assets standing in environments might help.
But I think the real difference, is in the small mercies that Neoverse brings to the table. Instead of Slay the Spire's map screen where you navigate to battles, story encounters, and shops, here we have different battle options that give you missions, and always-accessible skill and card shops.
Part of what this does, is it creates a bit of mechanical mercy.
But you know the biggest thing it does for me? It gives me a chance to fucking breathe. The simple fact that I can go check my skill tree for this run, maybe put some cash into an interesting card or a useful item, before I go into any battle...Well, it helps make me feel like I'm actively choosing my fight instead of being dragged along. That little extra sense of control ends up being all the difference in making me able to function in the game. And oh, that makes all the difference.
The modes and the means
Really, in the front-and-center Journey Mode, Neoverse is incredibly generous. You don't just select your class, you select which of their major play styles you want to lean into, getting several support cards to a specific goal in addition to your base attack/defend cards. Do you want to take the lady-paladin towards her Faith build, where she builds up charge that turns into a random blessing card when it pops off? Or do you want to build towards her Vampire build, where you do the usual vampires-in-videogames thing and lifedrain your opponents to stay as strong as ever? Or a hybrid???
There's also, in all the modes I've had a chance to unlock, a combo system. Follow the card types listed in the combo, (ie play two defensive cards and then an attack card) and you'll get double damage on your next attack. And while this can sometimes make the gameplay feel rote, it can also produce interesting decisions, because of course the randomly-generated combo string is often tactically poor, or outright difficult to accomplish. And sure, you could reset it by just playing the tactically best card...But what if you could hold for another turn, and get that double damage? Would that be the better call? Always the question to ask.
To some degree, this can make it a bit of Babby's First Spirelike. But at the same time, I'm not about to say that's a bad thing. Babby's First Spirelike is exactly what I needed to actually enjoy the damn game. As a game with a lot of interesting options, and some fun mechanical choices in how the characters operate, I had a surprising amount of fun actually playing Neoverse.
Why's that surprising, though?
Alright, let's talk about the art.
So, like, she serves god, but she's really naughty about it
Okay so here's the thing.
I'm not mad about horny games. I've really legitimately enjoyed some games that were just outright pornographic. And I'm certainly not gonna judge if people want to make a game full of beautiful sexy characters; considering the career paths of some of my best friends, I'd be a fuckin' hypocrite if I did that.
But here's the thing.
That all requires me to get the sense that you're actually doing this stuff because you like it. And there's a certain... Specificity that comes from that. Not in terms of the specifics of any one design or element, but in terms of leaning into stuff in a broader whole. Folks tend to have a type, you know?
And I'm not getting that out of Neoverse. The main characters all feel almost generic, and their sexualization feels downright rote. Like, why are the paladin's thighs exposed, when her whole thing is heavy plate and a tower shield? I'm not mad about it, I'm just looking for some sense that she the character chose to do it.
Then there's the enemies, which...They're all over the place. The game tries to do this time/dimensional travel angle to make it work, but it still means sometimes you're in a city fighting soldier dudes, and sometimes you're in ancient times fighting demons and minotaurs and stuff. The pieces end up feeling like they don't fit quite right, until the thing feels, aesthetically...Mushy. Scattershot.
Almost like an asset flip.
And that's a shame, because the mechanics work, right? Like, even as a Spirelike, it's got some interesting ideas, some solid beats, and the pieces hold together well. The translations of some of the cards are a bit hinky (ie I've definitely run into cards where I only learned they targeted all enemies when I used them), but it's not as bad as some games I've gotten retail from much bigger publishers.
So what I'm left with is a game that just, man, really needs some flare of its own to stand out.
But the real question is...
Should you buy it?
It's...A tricky question. Because even though it's a pretty solid Spirelike, we're not hurting for those, including the original. And there's the graphics as a problem. But it is a solid example of the genre!
Which puts it in a very murky place that a lot of games land in. You probably shouldn't buy this as your first Spirelike. And hell, even though it was my second one, it probably shouldn't be your second one. But it certainly doesn't have any mechanical flaws that make it super hard to enjoy...
Man, this is what demos are supposed to be for. This game needs a fuckin' demo. If you get the opportunity to try it out, give it a shot, at least. Maybe the mechanics will charm you and overcome the graphics, like they did for me.