A lot of emails flow through our collective inboxes at Gaming Nexus, filled with a wide array of industry news, press releases, and of course, offers of video games for the all-important review process. A few weeks ago, one such email caught my eye with a subject line of “Yeehaw?”. I’m an armchair cowboy at heart, so naturally it caught my attention, and just like that I yeehaw’d into the neon-infused wild west of Dust & Neon – a tough twin-stick roguelite shooter that isn’t revolutionizing the roguelite genre but features a couple of fun design choices that will appeal to fans of twin-stick shooters.
You play as the Gunslinger, a lost soul that’s been resurrected from the dead by Dr. Finkel – a process that happens over and over each time you die; and die you certainly will. Dust & Neon is a tough game but never an unfair game, which is always a critical piece of any roguelike or roguelite. I admit to not being a massive fan of the genre, and truthfully, I reached for Dust & Neon on a whim without even realizing it was such a game. Thankfully, its gameplay resonated with me rather easily, featuring tight twin-stick shooting with an isometric perspective that felt like some of my favorites in the genre such as Dead Nation. Something about the isometric camera just feels perfect for these sorts of games. Gunplay in Dust & Neon is easy to pick-up and play; the left trigger readies your weapon to fire, right trigger shoots, the left stick moves your character, while the right stick controls your aim. You can also dodge roll enemy attacks with the right bumper, but it does require a cooldown between uses.
I was blasting robots to bits in no time with my trio of wild west weaponry – a revolver, a shotgun, and a rifle. There are seemingly endless permutations of these weapons, which you can find as loot while on mission, or purchase from the vendor at the base. Each weapon has its own stats which vary wildly, especially depending on its rarity level. For example, I favored revolvers with low capacity but high damage, but ultimately, it was all down to the luck of the draw (pardon the pun) as to which weapons the game spit out at me. No matter what variant of those three weapons you end up with, killing enemies is always satisfying. Maybe it’s the feedback in the controller, or the way the robots break apart, but I quite enjoyed eliminating scores of baddies, especially with a close-range shotgun blast.
Things can get hectic when your screen starts filling up with enemies from multiple directions, and the tension is increased by constantly needing to manage your ammo. You can only hold so much of each ammo type, the most of which being for the revolver, so you must continually glance down at your ammo count to see if your next move needs to be a mad dash for an ammo crate. They’re littered across every map, so don’t worry too much, but it does have to constantly be a consideration in the back of your mind in the heat of battle.
To that end, one of my favorite things about Dust & Neon is the reload mechanic. Reloading is done by pressing Square (or your equivalent), but this must be done for each bullet loaded into the weapon. So, for instance, if you have a revolver with an eight-round capacity, you will have to tap Square eight times to fully reload. A nifty little animation pops up on the side of the screen to illustrate the reloading process as well. I never thought I would be so enamored with the reload system of a game, but here we are. I really appreciated the tactile nature of reloading my weapons, and how it heightened the tension of trying to survive a gunfight. If this sounds awful to you, fret not, as auto-reload can be turned on in the settings, but you’d really be subtracting massively from the experience.
From the start, a series of brief tutorial missions will get you acclimated to the gameplay and help get your base up and running with some essential upgrade stations. The tutorial does a good job of introducing the game’s mechanics, especially for players new to the genre. From there you set out on missions by grabbing weapons and selecting a mission at the teleporter. Missions have three difficulty tiers: easy, medium, and hard, but the game also has two overall difficulty settings and can be played at a baseline difficulty of either normal or easy. Worth noting, however, is that the general difficulty setting cannot be changed after starting a game. To do so, you would need to start a completely new save file, so choose wisely.
With that in mind, I went with the default difficulty of normal and, again, it can be a tough game. I died so many times in a row at one point that the game felt sorry for me and gave me a free one-time upgrade (called a Mind Blower) to give me a boost. It was all for naught, as I still died on the very next mission. I didn’t struggle too bad with the easy difficulty missions, but from medium on up, things get serious. Eventually you’ll likely run out of available easy difficulty missions, forcing you to put your big gunslinger britches on. This happened to me a lot and, well, the britches didn’t often fit, but then again, I’ve never been great at high-difficulty games.
There are a variety of mission types, including Sabotage, Defuse, and Train Heist, among others. My favorite was the Train Heist missions where you steal as much loot from a train as possible and then attempt to make it to the exit point. Once you reach a certain character rank, a boss battle will unlock for each of the game’s four Borderlands-esque regions. Boss battles are fun but tough, requiring you to learn attack patterns, manage your ammo, and deal with the occasional batch of minion enemies. After you take down a boss, they will return later in a more powerful and difficult form, should you dare.
When you do complete missions, you’ll return to base with XP and all your weapons, cash, and cores that you acquired. Leveling up lets you permanently unlock skills and their subsequent upgrades, cash is used to buy weapons from a vendor, and cores are for permanently upgrading various stations at your base. Early on, I focused on upgrading my weapons station to have a chance at having higher rarity (and better) starter weapons following an untimely death. Of course, dying during missions means you return to base emptyhanded, apart from some XP.
The bottom line is you are going to die, probably a lot, and there will be what feels like cheap deaths along the way. Upon reflection, my deaths were always my own doing, usually because I made a critical error such as losing track of my ammo count or health in the heat of battle, forgetting that the enemy I was shooting exploded on death, or just flat out letting myself get backed into a corner. I never felt like Dust & Neon was unfair to me, though, which is important for the type of game it is. With that said, if you typically aren’t good at roguelikes, you will probably encounter a hill to climb, eventually devolving into the need to “git gud” to advance. Or perhaps consider playing on easy difficulty if you typically bounce off tough games.
Ultimately, as a twin-stick isometric shooter, I enjoyed Dust & Neon and blasting its robot enemies to pieces a great deal. As a roguelite, it was always going to present its challenges for me personally, but you can’t fault a game for being what it is. If you are a fan of twin-stick shooters like Dead Nation and others, you’ll likely gel with the gameplay and mechanics, just beware the inherent challenge that eventually unfolds.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Jason has been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2022. Some of his favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports, RPGs, shooters, and simulators. His favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2, logging nearly 1,000 hours in Rockstar's Wild West epic. Jason's first video game system was the NES, but the original PlayStation is his first true video game love affair. Once upon a time, he was the co-host of a PlayStation news podcast, as well as a basketball podcast.View Profile