NeoDash is a futuristic racer when you race against time to finish levels as fast as you can. The time pressure is represented by a line of fire that’s chasing your car. Its position is indicated at the bottom of the screen, by a marker on a line representing the whole level from start to end. In other words, you need to go fast, fast, and most of the time faster still, to make it.
There’s no opponents, the main difficulty is to be fast as lightning, and avoid obstacles or moving parts/lasers on the way that would destroy your car. There’s no concept of “lives”. You can try the levels as many times as you want, while you always have to restart from the beginning. Think Super Meat Boy, racing style. After the first few easy levels, things get really difficult and you will fail dozens of times before you can finish a track. Tracks are not too long: from start to end it’s usually less than a minute if you manage to land your moves correctly.
Typically I hate these kind of games. Absolutely loathe them. I find them very frustrating. No appeal in getting the timing right to press buttons in order to complete a level like a good robot.
But this will prove to be the exception.
I keep coming back to NeoDash. The music, the overall production is so good that it feels like being in a different world for a little while. If I were to describe it, it’s like racing inside a huge music visualizer, shooting rays of light, beams of power as beats and accents drive the music tracks. Once you get your mind to focus on what’s going on, it feels like going into a trance. The power of suggestion is real.
It’s all about Sounds
The music falls in what I would qualify as “Electro” (yeah, the genre invented by the use of synthetizers in the 80s), and certainly not the Techno crap that followed in the 90s. Electro-like music is still produced these days, and now it’s called synthwave or EDM depending on the subcategory - I am certainly not a specialist of this music scene so more avid amateurs will probably correct me on this. In any case, it sounds very close to what Electro was back in the days. You can also get a feel that the developer (a single person!) has great taste: there’s no weak track in the lot, all of them are very pleasing to listen to, while I do have a few favorites. They were all composed by professional musicians from the scene, apparently, and that shows.
The mixture of sound and light is marvellous to look at. I can’t recall another game that did such a great job at that.
Controls are as simple as they can get: left, right, accelerate, boost/nitro, slow down (hardly needed). There’s the drift as well, which is absolutely required to ensure you maintain top speed when turning: failing to do that will lead you to lose time and get caught by the wall of fire chasing your ass to make you push forward. Drifting makes you charge the boost/nitro gauge faster too.
Then, there’s the flying controls. When you are mid-air you can activate some propulsion in a few directions using another trigger to make your car fall or fly into a different place. It’s a feature that becomes critical as you progress to later levels, where the track is not a single platform anymore but broken in parts with wide gaps where you could fall. Vicious!
The controls are perfect, of course. All movements feel just right and well balanced, so that you can never blame a mistake on the game, rather your slow brain or fat fingers that reacted too early or too late.
Make no mistake, I’m not very good at it. But for one of the first times, I don’t feel any frustration in dying dozens on times in the same level. I can take a go again at the track just to enjoy the whole thing. As music tracks alternate randomly, the very same track can feel completely different as the lights change with another rythm.
The spectacle is worth it.
NeoDash has an online leaderboards function so your achievements are continuously synchronized. You can see how slow you are against the 7 years old out there (probably) who have better reflexes. The better you do, the most points you get, and I guess points will be used at some point to unlock some extras.
If you don’t like the pressure of the time limit imposed by the game, you can always go for a new “ambience” mode added by the developer, where nothing chases you. In such mode, you can go as slowly as you want to finish levels. A nice addition to make things a little easier for some of us. This gives you less experience points, however.
The game includes a level editor so that you can create your own tracks. It’s easy to use and test your new tracks, and contains all the elements needed to make something really cool… if you have the time. For everyone else interested in more levels, the game also includes a level downloader to grab new tracks from the community. Since things are rated by end users, you can grab the best ones in your selection. I tried a few and some of them were made to be extra hard on purpose, which is not as fun as the base game. The levels of NeoDash strike a good balance with easy parts and harder ones as you drive, in what feels just right.
In any case, even if you manage to beat all the included levels, there’s probably a good amount of extra content you can find to make the most of it. This reminds me a lot of the Trackmania model, where the community tracks is what makes the game stay alive long after it’s released.
The Linux Version
At the time of writing, the Linux version refuses to launch on my Nvidia machine (Solus, GTX1660Ti) - this was not a surprise as the game developer had clearly mentioned to me that the Linux clients may fail on certain configurations. I have also tried to launch the game on a low-powered Intel laptop and there again it did not succeed (this, however, is probably to be expected), whether it was with the native client or Proton.
In the meantime, NeoDash works perfectly with Proton so it’s not really a problem. I reach more than 60 fps in ultra settings on an Ultra-Wide monitor (3440*1440), so the game performs very well and it’s likely to run well on older hardware too.
A Game For Everyone?
Is this game for you? I thought this was not for me either in the first place. so what do I know!?
But I’d say if you feel a strong attraction to the screenshots or videos in this article, there’s a good chance you would get addicted to it.