Tales of the Neon Sea is a pixel-art cyberpunk point-and-click game set in a dystopian reality years in the future. In it, you play as Rex, a grizzled ex-detective who is content passing each day in an alcohol-filled stupour. That is, until Rex stumbles upon a murder that opens up a whole web of conspiracy, and we slowly learn more about Rex and his troubled past.
The game is essentially a puzzle game pieced together by an overarching narrative that leads Rex away from the comfort of his cluttered home to try and get to the bottom of the murder. And when we say that this is a puzzle game, we mean it. The game can’t last more than a few minutes before throwing another puzzle at you.
In this future, robots and humans coexist, though not always peacefully. It is evident that xenophobic sentiments towards the robots still exist, from grandmothers telling their grandchildren to stop playing with their robot best friends, to a whole apartment building plastered with anti-robot posters. Though beyond that, not much else is done to integrate that theme into the game, when a lot more on the theme of racism could be touched on in a game with such a setting.
The prologue introduces players to the tail-end of the game, where players have to quickly figure out what to do lest they get swallowed up by the menacing looking mist following them. It’s only once the players have solved the prologue that the rest of the story unlocks and we have the game literally rewinding, bringing us all the way back to start of Rex’s story.
Throughout the game, Rex collects text files that players can read at their own leisure to build up their knowledge on the lore of the game, though having to read multiple files just to get the larger picture of the game feels a tad bit cheap, it would have been better if the game found a way to weave elements of the lore throughout the gameplay instead of having it placed in text files.
The narrative of Tales of the Neon Sea is fairly serviceable, with the puzzles in the game seeming to take precedence, but the story provides enough suspense to keep players going, as well as several instances of humour to break up the serious moments.
Still, one aspect this game could have done better in, is in its characters. After playing for quite a bit, players will still not know much about our protagonist, beyond how much of a supposed alcoholic he was, as well as how good of a detective he was prior to the start of the game.
Everything that we know about Rex is told to us explicitly, with the only instances we see of him being an alcoholic is him drinking himself unconscious one time during the game, as well as an empty fridge that used to hold his homemade hangover cure. There could be more reference towards his alcoholism, such as maybe having him carrying around a canister filled with alcohol that might be useful for a future puzzle.
Another important character within the game is William, Rex’s feline companion who we occasionally get to control to complete puzzles. Character-wise, we only get snippets of William’s personality when he is seen interacting with Rex, and his beau Elizabeth. Most other characters do not get much else in terms of character depth, and most only serving to push the story along before they are left behind.
Throughout the game, players will also be able to interact with various things in the background, with Rex giving his thoughts on the element that he is interacting with.
Some of the game’s early puzzles are also fairly easy to solve, once you realise that Rex only interacts with objects of importance. So if you find yourself lost, not knowing where to find that one specific object to progress the game, you can simply run around till you notice a bubble pop-up above an object.
Though most puzzles are not related to the plot in any significant way, there is one puzzle that nicely blends together the gameplay and the story. When you come across a crime scene, the game will zoom into a particular object or corpse, and using Rex’s cybernetic enhancements, players will get to hover around the objects to collect and combine clues to deduce what happened.
Most of the puzzles are rather self-contained, happening only in one location, and can be pretty fun to try and solve. But occasionally you will encounter puzzles that require you to traverse several locations. These puzzles often do little to further the characterisation of the story, and have multiple parts to it, which can sometimes lead to you trying to figure out a puzzle, only to realise that you left one step out.
These huge, sprawling puzzles can be fun to solve when you have an idea of what you are doing, but can be disappointingly frustrating when you find yourself spending a good hour or two just trying to solve this one mind-numbing puzzle.
What makes that long puzzle especially frustrating to solve is the minor bugs you might encounter along the way. We encountered said bug while trying to solve a puzzle that has you stuck in a sewer. Fortunately, we could load the last save file and try the puzzle again. We do not want to think about how badly we’ll scream if all our progress was lost thanks to that one bug.
Where the game truly shines is in its gorgeous pixelated graphics, with a level of professionalism that can rival even an AAA game. It is clear that the developers put a lot of effort into the aesthetics of the game, from character design, to the cities, and even the little background details. If nothing else, Tales of the Neon Sea proves that you don’t have to use hyperrealistic, 3D graphics in order to achieve a good looking game.
Overall, Tales of the Neon Sea is a beautiful looking game that will take a considerable amount of time to complete. However, gorgeous aesthetics can only shine so far when the game is loaded to the brim with puzzles, some fun, some not so much.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Tales of the Neon Sea is a gorgeous point and click puzzle game that suffers from having too many puzzles, and not enough characterisation and storytelling.
Gameplay - 6/10
Story - 6/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 6.5/10