Developed by Palm Pioneer and published by Zodiac Interactive, Tales of the Neon Sea is a tip to the beauty of retro-style pixel-art adventure games. In a cyberpunk cityscape, with its life and colour and neon glows, society is endangered peril by tensions between humans and android.
Playing as Mr. Mist, an android retired detective, with your sidekick cat, you start to investigate a missing person’s case. Suddenly, you’re thrown into a bleak world that hides behind the neon signs. To uncover the truth, you need to unlock memories and fight for what’s right in a city that’s filled with chaos.
Only The Demo?!
Tales of the Neon Sea doesn’t officially release on PC and consoles until sometime in the next few months. For now, the developers have kindly released a demo for people to play in order to get a teaser of what’s to come. Whilst the demo was short, it made such an impact in so many aspects.
The part I played is a couple of chapters chosen by the developers to give us sneak previews of all the important features of their indie game. You first wake up to the sight of BB-X, who tells you that 99% of your body needs repairing; hinting at Mr. Mist’s retired phase and at the idea that he needs help.
Then, suddenly after waking up in your messy apartment ready to start another normal day, a weird presence starts to possess an object in your attic. Using a puzzle to get the lights on, you find the object and approach it to find William, your cat, stuck inside.
However, a weird aura presence finds its way inside your body…we don’t find out much about that in the demo.
Exiting your apartment and walking down a dingy alleyway, you discover a body hidden in the middle of a cat colony. Using your investigation/clues mode, Mr. Mist can actually pinpoint, through ghostly figures, exactly what happened to the victim. We are introduced to a system that, apparently, will be recurring throughout the game.
The third part of the demo then focuses on the player taking on the role of William. Yes, William the cat. Suddenly, here’s this new world where instead of ‘Meow’, cats have something truly deep and meaningful to say!
Assisting Mr. Mist with the investigation, Williams goes on a quest through the cat’s territory to find the murder weapon. Along the way, you meet weird and wonderful cat characters inspired by the likes of Salvador Dali and The Godfather!
First Thing’s First
What immediately attracted me to Tales of the Neon Sea was the overall use of neon lights and bright colours for the scenes. Even the game’s title page looked visually stunning! Therefore, when going into the demo, I expected to see a little bit more in terms of the game design, the artwork, and the colours and the lights. Let’s say I wasn’t disappointed!
The visuals exceeded my expectations. From being in Mr. Mist’s apartment alone, there was so much detail put into designing the scenes – from the coffee machine plugged into the wall to the little bottles next to the bathroom sink. These little additions give the world a three-dimensional feel to it, adding these little objects that help to tell the character’s story.
Then, when venturing out into the streets, even the grimmest alleyway had so much detail and light; which made it all look futuristic and full of energy. I only hope that the same amount of detail and quality of the pixel art applies to the rest of the game once it’s released.
One feature that did surprise me was the investigation mode when examining a dead body; not because of what you had to do, but because of how easy everything was to understand.
When you enter the investigation mode, you have two different layers you can examine: the exterior and the interior of the body. Using your mouse, you can move the lens to analyse things that stand out, such as injuries or objects unique to the victim.
When you analyse them, you collect clues, and the clues can be combined to form a theory. These theories then become physical cogs that you need to put together to make a pocket watch work, and when it does, you can see the crime recreated through ghostly figures.
This was such an exciting feature to use, and very easy to understand and get to grips with. It will make the gameplay more interesting in the final release.
The Littlest Things
What made the gameplay for Tales of the Neon Sea flow so nice wasn’t only the way the indie game looked or the inspection mode, but also the littlest features that come with the demo.
For completing tasks, you could solve mini-puzzles, find objects that could help you progress, or answer questions given by other characters. Puzzles came with control instructions, and when trying to find the right object, a small image would pop up to tell you what object you need and what it does. The game encourages you to be aware of your surroundings. A passing glance in one scene could be important in a puzzle for the next one.
These features aren’t necessarily guiding you easily through the game, but are making the gameplay easier; so that you know where to go and who to look for rather than spending ages wondering what you’re supposed to do.
Tales of the Neon Sea is something special. The game design and the music give us a Blade Runner fantasy, where we’re wondering the city with all this mystery behind it; where there’s so much to uncover. Playing as Mr. Mist and Williams gives the players access to the underworld of the humans, androids…and the cats.
From the demo alone, my expectations for this indie game are so high that I can’t wait for the full version to go live. In the meantime, if you want to find out more, you can visit Tales of The Neon Sea‘s official Steam page and add it to your wishlist.