While at Gamescom this year, I managed to secure an interview with a publisher called Zodiac Interactive. They provide a gateway to the Western market for indie developers from China, who want to release their games to a larger audience. I can’t say that I’ve had the greatest exposure to many Chinese games in my life, with the reputation being they make cheap clones of popular Western games, so I never thought to check it out. However, what took my eye with Zodiac is their presentation of Tales of the Neon Sea.
A Cyberpunk Adventure
Tales of the Neon Sea is set in a cyberpunk cityscape and features a whole host of interesting characters and two intertwining stories that really bring the world to life. You play as Mr Mist, an almost defective, retired detective with a number of bionic enhancements. I was able to get my hands on the demo and play through the first three ‘chapters’, and I can definitely see why it hit it’s Kickstarter goal so quickly. The gameplay is incredibly solid and puzzles are varied and challenging. Some may need a slight tweak, but there aren’t any that have you bashing your head against the wall trying to find a solution. As long as you are able to put your mind into a logical headspace, then you’ll always feel the puzzles tickling your brain, but you’ll never hit a ‘wall’ that you can’t climb.
Throughout Tales of the Neon Sea, as it’s a detective-style game, you will get properly hands on with the enhancements in Mr Mist’s body, and how they can assist you with coming to a conclusion about the crime that’s happened in front of you. There are clues on the ground for you to look at and objects you can move around to locate additional clues and really build the crime scene entirely. But the most impressive thing is when you’re looking at a body. You have to look over the whole body to find as many clues about it as you can, then combine them to solidify them as a piece of evidence. That on it’s own would be pretty cool, but there are additional aspects to it as well – instead of just having a standard view, you can also stick on your x-ray vision and get peeking inside the bodies of victims to see everything that’s occurred internally, as well as externally. You’re basically able to do an autopsy at the crime scene using Mr Mist’s enhancements, and that’s incredibly cool. Once you’ve gathered all your clues together as well, you unlock ‘cogs’, which go into a pocket watch puzzle that then rewinds and shows you the whole crime, as it happened. There have been quite a few police detective type games over the years, with LA Noire being the standout, but the investigation in Tales of the Neon Sea is exceptionally fun and definitely the best since Team Bondi’s hit.
I always knew that making indie games was tough, not least because often the developers have to take quite some time out of their lives to do nothing but work on the game if they want to make it as perfect as they always dreamed. In China it’s slightly different from what Mitch at Zodiac was telling me. Due to there not being a huge hunger for Chinese-made games in the West, it can be exceptionally difficult for indie developers to make a huge success out of their games. Often the developers will quit their jobs to work on their games, but not be able to make a profit or even break even on it because of the inability to market it to a wider audience. Judging from Tales of the Neon Sea, this is a huge shame, as there is clearly an enormous amount of talent in China. Games like Tales of the Neon Sea, and publishers like Zodiac, clearly show this, and the idea of Chinese developers pushing out some top titles in the near future isn’t unfathomable – and is actually quite exciting.
Tales of the Neon Sea looks fantastic – in almost every aspect. There are some things that are in the game that are very “Chinese” humour, but it really adds to the whole experience. The developers aren’t just giving you a bland experience catered for the Western market, they’re giving a game that they have poured their hearts and souls into, and it really shows. Everything in it is wonderfully curated, with some of the best artwork you’ll see in a retro-styled game, a deep, funny story and some brain tickling puzzles to boot.