What is Tales of the Neon Sea
Tales of the Neon Sea is a pixelated cyberpunk adventure gone mobile. Previously released on the Steam store, Tales of the Neon Sea has made its debut in the mobile world landing itself on the Apple App Store and, in my opinion, is the perfect genre to do so. While Zodiac Interactive published this title originally on PC, it's important to note that Boke Technology Company has published the mobile version on iOS and added a few easter eggs. Tales of the Neon Sea will soon be available on Playstation, Xbox, and Google Play in early 2021.
Tales of the Neon Sea is what you’d expect to find if you took Sherlock Holmes, made it dark and violent, and then placed it in an Altered Carbon setting. At first sight, this game may appear simplistic and shallow due to the pixels on display, but it’s quite the opposite. You play as Rex, a half-human half-robot detective who lives in Starlight City. Rex has a complicated back story you'll slowly uncover as you progress through the game. Only the consciously aware player will make note of his constant state of intoxication, pain from past injuries, and mysterious rise as an influential detective. The year is 2140, and it's a time where humans and robots coexist, but not so peacefully. Cultural tension runs deep stemming from a shaky history between the two species after the first robot ever to awaken of its own intelligence, The Prophet, came to be. As panic and unease grew over this, a war against each other unfolded around the year 2054. It wasn’t until June of 2057 that a truce was signed after the threat of a possible nuclear activation by the Prophet. Following multiple peace meetings, the ensuing cold war officially ended later that year. The robots accepted society’s conditions, allowing humans to write into their source code the Three Principles code, which prohibited dangerous acts against humans, formally known as the Source Code Agreement between Robots and Humans. If you love lore and backstory, you'll find a good amount in Tales of the Neon Sea. You'll even get to briefly experience the back-alley, mob family syndicate that's entrenched within the cat world and how ruthless felines can be.
If you're surprised by the depth and creativity around the narrative, so was I, and it only gets better. The overarching narrative is around and a notorious serial killer who has gone quiet for over a decade, but has suddenly returned bringing back with him your unsavory history. Akin to the twisted relationship between detective Ryan Hardy and serial killer Joe Carrol in the hit tv series The Following, we learn that Rex's life was dramatically changed after his run-ins with the infamous serial killer Noa, formerly known as the Sculpture Killer. While I won't disclose the gruesome murders or the religious fanaticism that evolves from the chase of this killer, it's nonetheless an enrapturing experience that crime fans will enjoy.
At the core of this adventure is a puzzle mechanic. You will investigate crime scenes, hack doors, rewire hardware, and rearrange unique properties to progress to new locations. I found myself stuck once or twice which is always an indicator that the difficulty experience is well balanced. You'll even get to play as Rex's cat, William, who helps you unlock new areas. As with most puzzle mechanics, it's critical that you slow down, interact with everything, and examine things as Sherlock Holmes would himself. Within the menu is a database of the characters you have interacted with, history of Starlight City and the districts you visit, conversations you've had, and other recordings to help when you find yourself stuck. Tales of the Neon Sea has a stellar story and if you enjoy challenging puzzles, it will compliment the experience.
Conclusion & Rating
Including all of my biases for the love of this genre, I gave Tales of the Neon Sea a four out of five. While initially frustrated with some of the bugs upon release, I found the overall experience impressive once updated. The Busch League ratings can be found here. In a genre where pixelated gameplay is more of a fan service than a desire of the masses, titles must integrate phenomenal narrative, music, and a love for the tiny details such as humor in the dialogue or funny posters in the background. Tales of the Neon Sea provided as much, and as a $5.00 game on the go, I'd say it was beyond worth it.