Pocket Neon City Rumble Review
Note: This is a prototype review copy for an unreleased game. The contents in these pictures don’t necessarily represent the final product. The viewpoints presented are the reviewer’s honest, unbiased opinions and were in no way incentivized or influenced by a third party.
Ah, who doesn’t miss the good ol’ days of playing fighting games in the 90s? Yeah, sure, fighting games still exist, but there was something that was just so special about those old-school games. Who can forget the thrill of pulling off your favorite fatality in Mortal Kombat, and being thrilled by the super realistic graphics? Who can forget the Hadouken!!! and Shoryuken!!! that our old buddy Ryu would make sure to cry out every time you pressed the right buttons? Who can forget pausing every twenty seconds to look at the combo menu, and then waiting for your friend to do the same ? Yup, those were the days.
Well, while we’ve all been sitting on our butts reminiscing, there are at least two guys who decided those days don’t have to be over–only, instead of bringing the old school fighting game to the screen, they’re bringing it to the tabletop. These guys are Davy Wagnarok and Rudy Wilde, founders of Booyah Games, a company that’s working hard to translate the sheer awesomeness of 90s gaming into the medium of board games. Pocket Neon City RUMBLE is their latest project, currently live on Kickstarter. Pocket Neon City Rumble met its funding goal in an impressive four days, and is now working on tackling its stretch goals with 24 days to go (at the time of this posting).
Pocket Neon City Rumble is not Booyah Games’ first project. Prior to this project, they released a title called N30N City Rumble, which was their first foray into tabletop gaming. N30N City Rumble was also successfully Kickstarted, and it was Booyah’s first attempt at the 90s Fighter Game genre. Pocket Neon City might just sound like a smaller version of that game, but don’t be fooled–it is its own standalone game. While the spirit of the game remains the same, Pocket Neon City has its own rules and unique identity. It does stay true to the “pocket” in its name, being a game that can be set up, played, and packed back up in minutes. Pocket City Rumble aims to take the premise of a quick fighting game, and put it into your pockets as a fun filler game that can be busted out at any moment’s notice.
So, is the game successful in this bold endeavor? Let’s find out.
This is an accordion-style review. If you’re not interested in reading a certain section, you can minimize it and jump to whatever part interests you.
Pocket Neon City, when it comes down to it, is a very simple game when it comes to rules. It’s so simple, in fact, that this statement on the Kickstarter page sums it up pretty well:
Pocket N30N City RUMBLE is a light dueling card game that simulates a fight between teams of mutant street fighters. Players use 3 fighters to perform a wide array of attacks, combos, counters, and super moves to beat the living gems out of their opponents. The match is over when a player has lost all of the gems on his/her fighters. A session consists of 3 matches, with the winner being the player who won 2 out of 3 matches.Booyah Games, Pocket Neon City Kickstarter Page
In short, it’s a 3v3 brawl, with the object being to destroy your opponent’s gems. The object of the game is that simple. There is, like always, added complexity when you actually get down to your variety of actions, so let’s just jump in.
It’s all about the gems in Pocket City Rumble. When you set up the game, you’ll choose three fighters, and you’ll draw twelve gems from a drawstring bag. You’ll then allocate these gems to your character, “slotting” each one with exactly four. Each character has a batch of gem “slots” on their card, each one corresponding to a special super move. Also, there are three types of gems–red, blue, and green; these have to match whatever slot is on the fighter’s card. You can’t, for instance, place a green gem on a red slot.
The gems act as both your life gauge and your special attack power. The object of the game is destroy an enemy’s gems, which is done through either super moves or Brawl Cards (both of which we’ll cover in a moment). The catch is that you can also use these gems to perform your own super moves. This requires removing a gem, so every time you choose to bust out your fighter’s big guns, you’re lowering their life expectancy at the same time.
The game takes place in rounds, and each round consists of players taking alternating turns. On a given turn, you can choose one of your fighters to activate, and they can perform one action. After performing this action, they cannot be used for the remainder of the round. Once all fighters have gone, the round ends and play continues until there is a victor.
There are two different actions you’re capable of playing on a turn–you can play brawl cards, or perform a super move. Let’s talk about brawl cards first.
If this were a fighting game, your brawl cards would be your standard punches and kicks. Just like pressing X on your controller might cause your character to punch, playing a “punch” will do the same in Pocket City Rumble. Each brawl card eliminates exactly one gem from your opponent’s gauge. The type of attack will determine what gem gets destroyed–a punch, for example, always eliminates a red gem, while a kick always eliminates a blue one. Regardless of attack type, brawl cards always destroy one gem.
Punches and kicks and headbutts are great, but what would a fighting game be without combos? This is where Pocket Neon City can get fun, because you can chain together combos depending on your hand. Every brawl card can lead into another attack, which is specified at the bottom of the card. If, for example, you play a headbutt that can lead into a kick, you can immediately throw down a kick card. If that kick card leads into a punch, you could also whip out that card to make a three hit combo. You can combo as much as you have cards for, so it is possible in theory to wipe out all of your enemy’s gems with one swift combo.
The number of brawl cards in your hand are determined by the fighters you choose, and you don’t replenish brawl cards until the end of the round. This can be tricky, because if you use up all your cards with your first fighter, you won’t have any left for the other two when their turns roll around.
Should you choose not to play brawl cards, you can tap into your super moves. If brawl cards are the punches and kicks of Pocket Neon City, the super moves are the Hadoukens.
Each gem on the fighter’s card represents a super move. To play one of these moves, you simply remove the gem and play the action. These, obviously, are more powerful than brawl cards, but they come at the cost of a gem, and as we’ve established, losing all of your gems spells certain death for your character.
It’s also worth nothing that there are attack super moves, and support super moves. Attack super moves are what they sound like–powerful offensive abilities. The fireball, tornado kick, and headsmash can wipe out ALL of the red, blue, or green gems of one character respectively, while the “counter” allows your character to interrupt an attack against them and fire back using their brawl cards. The “lone wolf” allows you to attack multiple targets with brawl cards, while another power lets you combo ALL of your combat cards, regardless of what’s printed on them.
Also, you can use multiple super moves in one turn if they’re linked together. This is great, because it allows you to chain attacks together, and gives each fighter their own flavor. Look at Fifi Omegazoid in the picture before. In one swift turn, she can wipe out ALL of the gems on any fighter with her green gems. Meanwhile, Judy Haze could draw gems, draw cards, and then shuffle her gems between her fighters as one turn. This makes each player feel like they have their own specific special moves, just like, you guessed it, a fighting game.
Support super moves, on the other hand, aren’t offensive, but add a great deal of depth to the game. You can draw 2 extra gems with “payday” to allocate to whomever you please, reactivate an exhausted fighter with “recharge,”, or move gems around your cards to open up different abilities than what you had before with “shuffle.”
Almost all of the depth in Pocket City Rumble comes from the super moves. While they seem simple on paper, you’ll find that clever players will find much more efficient ways to cleverly combo their special abilities to devastating effect.
Once a player loses all of their gems, the game is over. Well, almost over anyway. The game is actually meant to be played best 2 out of 3. Because the game plays so quickly, multiple rounds are encouraged.
And that just about covers it! Pocket Neon City Rumble, as I said, is a pretty simple game to play, but surprisingly deep in its strategic complexity. When it comes down to it, PNCR can be learned and taught in five minutes.
#1 – You don’t get it at first so you start button-mashing
So, the concept of PNCR is extremely easy to swallow. The rules aren’t hard, but the game is at first intimidating when you look at the variety of fighters and super moves in front of you. In most of my games, newer players didn’t want to sit down and mull over their choices, so we just kind of randomly placed our gems and looked up the moves as we went along.
We chose our attacks without precision or planning–“oh, these super moves don’t look very good right now. Guess I’ll use my brawl cards instead!” might be something you’ll hear from a new player, followed up by, “oops, I just used up all my cards and my last character only has one gem left. Uhhh…self destruct!” The truth is, unless you want to sit there and ponder strategically for a good amount of time, your actions will likely be fairly random and haphazard the first few times you play.
Random and haphazard attacks without planning or knowledge of the game…sound familiar? It does to me. In fact, it sounds exactly what every single new fighting game experience is like. You pick up the controller, you start mashing buttons, you die, you play again, you keep getting a feel for the general mechanics of the game, and once you’re a bit familiar with those, then you jump into that combo screen on the pause menu and start busting out your special moves.
Furthermore, experienced players can wipe the floor with new players, because they will know exactly where to put their gems. Unless they’re guiding their opponent through everything, it’s likely that they don’t stand a chance, just like in fighting games. That being said, even button mashing can bring down an experienced player, and that might just happen with a new player in PNCR…though I wouldn’t count on it.
#2 – It’s addicting once you figure it out
Herein lies the devilish genius of fighting games–they’re a pain to figure out, but once you start learning those sweet, sweet combos, you just want more. You find yourself dipping into the pause screen more and more to find your character’s more elusive combos. You turn on practice mode and start going against an AI. You analyze your opponent’s weaknesses so that you can exploit them next game. You memorize every special move and combo, and when to use them. If you’ve ever found yourself doing this, then you might have reason to fear Pocket Neon City Rumble, which might just inspire the same behavior.
This, as with most fighting games, depends on if you have a reliable opponent to play against. The thrill of fighting games is the challenge of matching your buddy, because winning at that game is just the most important thing of the day when he’s over. If you don’t have a consistent opponent in PNCR, the temptation to dive into it probably won’t be as enticing. This game is addicting when your opponent cleverly outwits you, inspiring pent up fury in your heart to go find the new deadly combination that will take him out next time. It’s a game of escalation, and figuring out how to counter your opponent is a lot of fun.
#3 – The Character Select Screen is full of variety
One of the great things about PNCR is its wildly creative character roster, that truly feels reminiscent of a 90s Street Fighter-esque game. The cast here is a veritable freakshow, and I mean that in a good way. You could play as Tiny Funaki, the classic Japanese fist-fighter, or go for Smith and Weston, the big buff two-headed dude, or go with the green and pink Fifi Omegazoid, and I can’t even tell you what she is.
The thing is, the fighters aren’t just varied in their looks and personality, each one has their own moveset and overall style. Fighters are divided into three basic categories: “balanced,” “brawler,” or “gem master.” Brawlers specialize in raw combat, relying on brawl cards to do their dirty work; their super moves will focus on giving them more cards, and more variety with how they can use those cards. The gem masters are on the other side, being beefed up with unique and powerful special abilities. These come at a cost–the obvious sacrifice of using up their own gems, and the fact that gem masters don’t draw any brawl cards. Their super moves are so potent that they have to rely on them to win. On the other hand, brawlers draw a hefty amount of brawl cards. The balanced fighters are somewhere in between.
Sound like a fighting game yet? It doesn’t matter which one you play, you’re going to find these archetypes. There are the brutal fist-fighters who depend on successive comboing attacks to win, and there are always complicated fighters that are stacked with special moves for the player to memorize. Of course, in between them, there are always the “in-betweeners,” the balanced fighters, of whom one always seems to be the game’s primary mascot. These guys are newbie friendly, being versatile in both areas.
It’s fun drawing characters in PNCR, and building your team based off these abilities. My friend and I, just for kicks, decided to play a brawlers vs. gem masters round. I recall drawing cards and prepping my round so that I could use an ability that could combo all of my brawl cards together. I launched my attack against Fifi Omegazoid, seeing that she was stacked to destroy one of my characters in a single move. He ended up playing “martyr,” forcing me to direct my attack at a different enemy with a much different gem set, rendering my cards almost useless. He then used Fifi Omegazoid to blast one of my remaining fighters off the board. I didn’t last for much longer after that. Had I paid attention to my opponent’s moves and gem gauges, that could have been avoided!
#4 – It’s quick and dirty
You know what’s one thing that sucks about multiplayer gaming these days? It just takes too damn long. Sometimes, I just want to pop open a game, start playing it, and be done when we feel like being done. No, I don’t want to connect online, wait around for the server, and then jump into a lobby and wait around some more. No, I don’t want 30 minute matches. Sometimes, I just want something short and sweet, and that’s something that can definitely be appreciated in classic fighting games. You turn the game on, play some rounds, and you can turn it off.
PNCR is very much the same way. This game, even more than its predecessor, was definitely designed for spur of the moment gameplay. You can bust this game out at any moment’s notice, play a round or two, and pack it back up. The fights are short and sweet–it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to knock those gems out. After you finish, you can pump out another round and the game is over! This game works excellently as a filler game because of how short and sweet it is. It might not be the mainstay of your game night, but you’ll probably find use for it if you carry it around with you, or keep it handy near your games. Someone setting up a new game? Play Pocket Neon City Rumble. Somebody taking too long to take their turn? Play Pocket Neon City Rumble. Waiting for your food at a restaurant? Bam, Pocket Neon City Rumble (this one got us weird looks from our waitress).
Overall, PNCR is a quick game by design, and in that respect, it handily imitates the brevity of the fighting games we know and love.
#5 – Secret Characters are waiting to be unlocked
Okay, that’s kind of a deceptive headline, because this doesn’t actually apply to the game, it applies to the Kickstarter. Currently, the game is working to meet its stretch goals, and many more characters are waiting along the way to be unlocked! If you love unlocking characters in your favorite game, head over to the Kickstarter page and give these guys a hand–you’l have some degree of influence over which characters get in and which ones don’t!
PNCR, naturally, gets more hectic the more players you add. Although it’s suited for many players, I only got to play the game at two and three players because the prototype copy didn’t account for more. This is no surprise to me–despite its high advertised player count, I can’t imagine the game working better with more players than it already does at 2 or 3. Despite the game’s simplicity, there is a lot of thinking that needs to happen, and I imagine it might be somewhat of a chore to meticulously analyze everyone’s fighters in a six player game. Two or three is where I imagine this game working best, and I was pleased at both counts.
I got to play the game a little more with two players than with three, though both were solid experiences. You really get the 1v1 rivalry going on with a two player game, but you open up a lot of variety with three players. I anticipate the full version to include more fighters should you want to add players to the game, but I would argue that the game is best if you keep the count low.
There’s no doubt about it, visual design is a huge component to the marketability of this game, and I feel like Booyah Games has done a great job in this department–Pocket Neon City Rumble’s aesthetics are busy, bombastic, and bodacious. Regardless of if you’re a fan of the style or not, they’ve NAILED the 90s retro game look, and I was immediately surprised by the production quality of the game when I first opened it up.
I can talk about the aesthetics as much as I want, but really, I’m not going to be the one that decides if you like them or not. To some people, it’s possible that the cards are over-designed, cluttered, and distracting; others will feel right at home with its heavily stylized theme. All you need do is look at these pictures and decide for yourself.
As for me, I’m a fan. It’s not really the type of style I’d go out of my way to purchase, but even if it’s not 100% to my personal taste, it’s impossible for me not to say that the visual design has been done very, very well.
One thing I really love is the pixelated characters on the front of the fighter cards. This is meant to replicate a fighting game, and nothing can drive that home more than actually rendering the characters as they might appear in a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis game. Also, is that a Game Gear bezel around the character portraits? That’s what I see, and I’d be a lying man if that didn’t bring me back to the days that I spent playing Sonic, tethered to the wall by an AC adapter because the 6 AA capacity requirement for the Game Gear was too much for our house.
Aside from the pixel portraits, the artwork itself in PNCR is very well done. They were clearly aiming for a smoother, cutesy look with this game, the characters being pseudo-chibified versions of their more realistic counterparts in N30N City Rumble. This is appropriate for a miniaturized card game version of a bigger game. I liked seeing that the pocket version got this treatment, when compared next to the “big boy” version; it helps to set them apart. Unfortunately, this is a connection many players might not be aware of.
If there’s one complaint that I have about the cards, it’s that they’re a little…busy. One of our players remarked how it was interesting how the cards don’t have backsides; in reality, they do, but it’s so packed with action that it’s easy to mistake it for the actual card content. I think the game might benefit from having a slightly less busy card design, but overall it’s a pretty negligible problem for me.
The gems are nice, though it seems like we’re to expect different ones for the final version. Indeed, the creators have expressed their desire for the gems to match the shape as their slots on the fighter cards, and I imagine this is something that will happen via their Kickstarter funds.
I’ve got to hand it to Booyah Games–they know what they’re doing when it comes to pricing. Pocket Neon City Rumble is only acquirable at the moment through Kickstarter, and of course, pledging for the game now means that you’ll get it significantly later after it’s gone through its production run. $17 will get you the game with all unlocked stretch goal fighters, with free shipping to US, and $3-$7 shipping if you’re overseas. Shipping can be the destroyer of promising Kickstarter games, so it’s pretty awesome that these guys have gotten it down so cheap.
As for the value? I’d say $17 is more than a fair price. If you’re real nitpicky, you could say that such a small game would more appropriately be priced at the $10 range, but come on now. It’s a Kickstarter, and most Kickstarters don’t have the sweet hookups that major publishers do. All things considered, I’d say this is a pretty fair price. I’ve found that, if you can get a good game for less than $20 in the tabletop gaming world, you’ve scored a pretty good deal.
Naturally, there are more options available, as is true with any good Kickstarter campaign. $25 will get you the core set along with an extra pack of fighters and special brawl cards. This is the deluxe addition; new characters obviously add variety to any game, but I’d say the greater appeal lies in the new brawl cards that you’ll get in this pack. These cards include devastating attacks that destroy two gems instead of one, as well as taunt/slap cards that can cancel super moves or steal enemy gems! Given that you only have the basic punch/kick/headbutt cards in the base game, these could add some welcome variety into the brawl deck.
Finally, there is the $45 Deluxe Fighter Edition, which really spices things up with special jumbo sized boss cards, a new game mode, and other types of characters. Additionally, you’ll get a strategy guide, a short manga, and character bios/artwork, along with the fighter pack included in the reward tier above. If you’re really into the idea of this game, then this version will come with more than enough content to keep you satiated for a long time.
Finally, there are the premium “Champion Fighter” and “Mayor Fighter” tiers at $250 and $1000 respectively, which I invite you to check out on the Kickstarter page.
It’s hard to get into at first
PNCR isn’t remarkably grabbing the first time you play it. One of the reasons for this is because its unique blend of simplicity and complexity. It’s so easy to understand that it’s easy to set up and play, but requires reading between the lines to actually play well. This means that, when you have new players, they have to absorb a lot of information before the game starts being fun. This is fine for games that are inherently super complex; like, it’s not like people are going to whine about having to learn a lot of stuff when they play Twilight Imperium, because they consciously made the decision to play freaking Twilight Imperium. However, Pocket Neon City Rumble is a game that appears to be simple, and then demands that the player reads into it.
This is, once again, eerily similar to a fighting game, but the steep learning curve for fighting games isn’t always a good thing. That being said, PNCR isn’t that complicated. It’s really not. Within two or three games, you’ll get it. It’s just slightly more complicated than you’d think it’d be (to play well, anyway), and that can turn off players if they believe that it will play out otherwise. But what I don’t want you to do is read what I just said here, and walk away thinking that it’s some kind of super complicated game, because it’s not.
There’s a weird conundrum that PNCR has–it feels either too simple or too complex, depending on the moment. The game is extremely simple to play, and sets itself up as a quick filler game. In reality, the game IS quick! It doesn’t take long to knock out all the gems on any one side. On the other hand, deciding which gems to slot and how to play your super moves might induce a level of analysis paralysis that’s not proportionate to the size of the game. It’s hard to find a way to eloquently word this problem, but that’s my best attempt. In other words, this is a super quick game that can make you think so hard that the game is no longer a quick game. It can be a real brain buster deciding how to stack your gems, especially when you’re taking your opponent’s fighters into consideration. For a game that’s supposed to last five to fifteen minutes, this can be a problem if you’re playing with the wrong players.
The Issue With the Gems
First of all, don’t get me wrong, I love the gems. The gems are great, and they’re going to be even more beautiful in the main game than they are right now. I’ve always loved having physical components in my games, so these gems are a nice addition. If I had to nitpick, I would go as far to say that, as great as the gems are, they kind of hurt the portability of the game. This “problem” is extremely minor, but it’s worth mentioning. See, I really want a good, portable filler game that I could carry around in certain situations. This is one of the biggest strengths of portable filler games–they can be played anywhere with ease. You can’t really carry around a copy of Through the Ages around anywhere you want, but you could carry around, say, Sushi Go!
The one problem I had with the gems, and again, it’s a small one, is that it kind of anchors you down once you start playing. You have to place the gems delicately on the cards and make sure they don’t move around. If your table is moved, or a gust of air comes through, or you make a clumsy gesture, your gems are going all over the place. Losing the place of all your gems can break a game (though to be fair, it’s really not that hard to remember where you placed them, and it’s never fun when your progress is shot because your components got scattered. This makes this game less ideal for outdoor scenarios or mobile situations, such as playing in a car or in a line. It sucks when a filler game can’t be played in these types of scenarios, but it is what it is. Realistically, 95% of the people who pick up this game will be playing it 95% of the time in a time and place where the gems aren’t an issue.
I was surprised at how well Pocket Neon City Rumble ended up nailing the fighting game “feel.” It’s easy to pick up and play, but also has a learning curve if you want to get good. It will inspire sharp rivalry between you and your opponent, and it’s got a creative cast of unique fighters with special moves and ranging balances. It’s easy to set up, quick to play, and hard to master. These are all traits of the best fighting games, so I think it’s pretty cool that Booyah Games was able to nail that feel.
As a gamer myself, I love it when video game concepts are explored on the tabletop. Video games are truly fantastic forms of entertainment, but in an age where more and more people are becoming glued to the screens and devices that surround them, it’s no wonder to see why people are flocking to tabletop gaming to provide an entertaining , social activity. Video games have a lot to offer, and I can see some really creative games coming out of the woodwork in the coming years. Pocket Neon City Rumble is one such game. It not only tackles the video game “genre,” but also ends up mimicking a fighting game, which is something that’s certainly pretty new to the tabletop world.
Despite the fact that the game sometimes makes you sit and think for more than you’d like, or that it’s hard for newer players to nail the strategy of it, Pocket Neon City Rumble is a delightful little game, especially for the cheap price of $17, which is currently what you can get it for if you back its Kickstarter. Between the clever gameplay design and astonishing visual design, it’s no wonder that PNCR reached full funding in less than five days. I’m excited to see how far this campaign will go. If you’re looking for a fun little filler game that recaptures some of your favorite video game memories, Pocket Neon City Rumble might just be the game for you.
YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- You have nostalgic memories of 90s fighting games
- You’re the one that memorized all of the combos in said fighting games
- You’re looking for a filler game that can be played in five to ten minutes
- If you like games that have strong aesthetic quality
- You haven’t been able to find a filler that is simple, yet complex
- You like the idea of video game mechanics being translated to the tabletop
YOU WON’T LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- You’re a button masher
- You don’t want to have to think very hard when you play a filler game
- You want a game that you can play while you’re more or less mobile
- Street Fighter makes you hurl
- You enjoy minimalistic visual design