Review – Dust & Neon
What a time its been for the booming roguelite genre with Vampire Survivors, Cult of the Lamb, Returnal for PC recently, and then of course the hotly anticipated sequel to Hades, coming soon. The rogue genre has seen a huge increase in quality titles with various budgets and styles lately and I’m all for it. I have been enjoying a great deal of them lately, so when I saw Dust & Neon’s interesting mashup of cowboys, robots, and twin-stick shooting, I knew I had to try it.
As I’m sure you gathered, Dust & Neon is a roguelite twin-stick shooter that is set in a futuristic western world where technology assists cowboys and robots are taking over. The robots are done taking orders and being used as servants, so they have started an uprising. As the Gunslinger, you were created in order to stop this uprising by taking out the leaders and manufacturer of them.
Dust & Neon certainly doesn’t try to shake the roguelite genre in any way, with it sticking to majority of the same gameplay loops you’ve seen before. Dying removes weapon pickups and a portion of your banked spendable currency, but you’ll be able to eventually unlock machines that help mitigate the penalty of death. For instance, you’ll be able to upgrade your clone machines so that you can start of with one of each weapon type. As you continue to upgrade the machine those starter guns will be higher in tier.
Other upgrades include the ability to lose less upon death, weapon shops will carry better guns, and then you can also make them cheaper. There is a chip shop that allows you to buy an upgrade chip that lasts for one level. As well as a bartender that serves drinks that boosts certain stats for a level or two. None of these systems are new, but they are essential to the progression of a roguelite.
Ranking up comes with the being able to spend skill points that are separated into two categories: combat and defense. These upgrades are permanent, but you’ll need to decide which ones are more important first. The first sixteen level-ups or so offer you two points, but after that you’ll only get one and it feels like a slog upgrading a skill to its fullest. There is a nice variety here and I decided that health and defense were more important than the combat. Letting my natural skill make up for the less reserves and boosted accuracy.
Being able to gain life from each kill and upgrading my total health seemed more important since there is a generous amount of ammo boxes in each level. There became a point around level twenty that the difficulty, no matter the level, was really low. Stealing life from kills, deflecting damage back to enemies, getting life from ammo boxes etc. made it a breeze. I had about four deaths and all of them happened during the first two maps. Once I got those permanent upgrades and unlocks it became much easier. I was hording so much money it was easy to buy new guns when they got to the store and the other non-permanent upgrades.
Back at the home base, you will start a mission at the map. The map is separated into four regions, with each having their own boss or two. You will need to complete other quests in order to raise your level, and then the region’s boss will challenge you. The other quests consist of only a handful of types, two of which are basically the same thing. There is a destroy all robots, destroy all targets, turn off facilities, robbing a train, and then the boss fights. These same activities are repeated throughout the four regions and the slight differences aren’t enough to keep it fresh for hours.
Once you start the missions you’ll explore and run into groups of enemies outdoors and indoors. In most of the levels, besides the train ones, you’ll run into various homes and saloons filled with enemies, as well as ammo and weapon boxes. This being a randomized loot game, you will come across weapon crates that will hopefully provide you with something better. There are three types of weapons and all have different variants to them: revolver, shotgun, rifle. Each of these function exactly how you would expect.
I’ve talked about the general structure of Dust & Neon, but now I want to get into its moment to moment gameplay. It being a twin-stick shooter means it’s action heavy, and doesn’t slow down for any puzzles or platforming. There is a sprint button, aim button, shooting button, reload button, and a dodge roll. Taking cover behind objects happens automatically as you approach a waist high object, and aiming will have you pop out. This all works smooth, and for the most part there isn’t really anything wrong with the gameplay. However, as you continue to play there are some shortcomings I noticed.
Reloading can be very tedious because you have to keep pressing the reload button to load individual bullets. Yes, that means if you have a ten round revolver, you have to mash the reload button ten times to reload. You can interrupt the reload by shooting at anytime, but for long game sessions and intense battles this becomes annoying. Also, the movement is fluid, but why isn’t there the ability to vault over waist high objects? That would increase mobility, add function to the cover system, or even open up a way to kick an enemy while vaulting to stun them. None of the gameplay evolves as the game proceeds and it can feel stale after a few hours.
Visually, I really like the cel-shaded stylized art style of Dust & Neon; it’s able to able to show plenty of detail, while easily readable. The colors from the ammo types, environments, and robots all pop really well. The problem here for me is the lack of variety in just about everything. The four regions have slightly different aesthetics, but the layouts of the towns and interiors are all the same. Each mission structure will have a similar layout structure and the region doesn’t give enough variety to make it feel fresh after hours of playing.
This is also an issue with the enemies. There are a couple new enemy types that get introduced in each region, but they don’t feel as standout since there seems to only be two types of robots. One type are the humanoid types, and then robots that are more spider-like and roll at you. There are some variants here with slightly different behaviors and attacks, but it all blends in after a while.
Soundtrack provides some western themed songs that range in intensity and quality. I must say though, that it didn’t really stand out due to all the action, and when the action is done you get a simple western tune. The various sound effects of the guns and enemies are well done. Each weapon type sounding as I expected them to, with revolvers having a quick pop off, shotguns are large blast, and rifles with their longer reverberated shot in the distance. Ambient sound effects of the levels, as well as the ammo, and weapon boxes opening are done well. I just wish the soundtrack hit me more.
Dust & Neon is a well-made roguelite with some satisfying combat that is only let down by its lack of level variety and movement capabilities. It hits all the boxes of a roguelite that is well-made, it just doesn’t quite do enough to stand out from the pack for me. We are at a point in the genre where we have so many hits that I just wasn’t wowed by a run of the mill twin-stick shooter. I do think this IP has more potential if it could expand some gameplay ideas, more mission structures, and different weapon types, like at least dynamite or a shock grenade.
A simple cel-shaded art style that is only let down by lack of variety.
General movement and twin-stick shooting is fine, however, I’d have liked to see more than just a slide.
The soundtrack has some western themed tunes and ambient sound effects, but nothing stand out.
Fun Factor: 6.5
While the gameplay can be fun, there is a lack of growth in variety for the level and enemy design.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Dust & Neon is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on i7-9700k, RTX 2070, 16GB RAM, and tested on Steam Deck.
A copy of Dust & Neon was provided by the publisher.