July 26, 2021

NEO: The World Ends With You review - a DS classic gets a charmer of a sequel

Tokyo is the largest city on the planet, and for my first few trips there, it also felt like the busiest. I mean busiest in the sense of the sheer amount of visual information that lives around you when you walk around Shibuya: signs, screens, lettering, graffiti, municipal mascots. It's a complete delight to take in - maximalist and overwhelming. I'm sure it settles down the longer you spend there, but I've always been in and out. In a way, I don't want it to settle down. And it's this kind of thing that NEO: The World Ends With You is so brilliant at capturing.

The sequel to a glorious DS oddity, Neo is another RPG set in the Shibuya area of Tokyo, fanning out from the iconic Scramble Crossing to take in skyscrapers, crooked shopping lanes, freeway underpasses and much more. Tokyo, a certain kind of Tokyo; this city is vast and multifaceted, is captured in its hectic splendour. This is the same turf that Jet Set Radio explored - at times you can recognise the paving or the cant of a famous building - and it's the same emotional territory too: a world of teens and fashion and brands and shopping and friendship and phone messages and pop culture references.

But that maximalist visual onslaught! You get it twice, I reckon: firstly as you navigate the streets where the game's story and missions play out, and secondly when you're battling - the part of the game where its fiery soul lives. Where to look! The first game on DS had you air-hockeying your attention between the top screen and the bottom as you controlled different fighters with different input methods - button taps on one, stylus swipes on the other - and took on a variety of tattooed frogs and hawks and other wildlife. Neo keeps a lot of this in play. A lot of the enemies are familiar, particularly upfront, and a lot of the attacks you collect and level up, delivered in the form of pin badges, have come across from the earlier game too. But no two screens. No stylus. What to do? Where to look?

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