Neon Hat is like a trip back to 1985 to experience the 2021 we thought the future was going to be. If that sounds like a mind-bender then it totally fits the bill when describing Neon Hat – a mind-blowing VR racing game from Spain’s Entalto Studios that will leave players nostalgic about the golden days of CGI.
There’s no denying Neon Hat is going for the 80’s aesthetic – and boy does it achieve it. What the developers call a “low-poly neon world” those of us who were teens in the 80’s will instantly recognize the wire-frame, vector-style graphics as themes straight out of the worlds of Tempest, Star Wars Arcade, and Disney’s cyber-epic love story Tron. Hel, there’s even some Space Invaders and Miami Vice thrown in the mix. It’s like a trip down memory lane inside of a VR helmet.
As mentioned, Neon Hat is a VR racing game – but not one like we’ve seen before. Combining the flying suit of Iron Man with independent jet engine thrusters in each hand (Move controllers), Neon’s Hat’s H.A.T. operator must compete in a series of races, shooting games, and boss battles to beat the game and win the prestigious Net Races competition. The 3D enclosed racing circuits are decorated with precisely-positioned speed boost hoops which are utterly necessary to beat the three tough competitors.
The dual-thruster control mechanics may seem intuitive during the initial tutorial runs – simply point the thrusters, pull the trigger, and go. But as the turn become tighter, and elevation comes into play, the control mechanics quickly become a bit confusing – about the closes comparison I can think would be navigating the swimming scenes in Uncharted – the buttons make perfect sense, you keep hitting the wrong buttons under pressure.
For instance, pointing the thruster left will certainly steer you leftward, but doing so too much will most likely slam you into one of the invisible wireframe walls that defines the edge of the course, severely affecting the speed. In order to actually turn left, you must press the circle face button while pointing left, but if held too long the speed will likewise be severely affected. It’s a constant dance, aiming the moves, feathering the accelerator, and tapping the turn. With proper timing there is the ability to perform a kart-racing style powerslide speed boost, but very few times did the stars ever align for that to work for me.
Neon Hat features 10 different racing circuits which can be played in any one of the three base gameplay modes – Race, Pursuit, and Extreme Derby. Race is the standard player versus bot racers (3), Pursuit has gamers chasing Data Snatcher all while shooting down the Space Invader-themed drones that protect it. Those two modes can be set to run at either slow, medium, or fast speeds (aka kilobyte, megabyte, and gigabyte, respectively) which really amps up the excitement. Extreme Derby is already set to gigabyte speed, but with damage turned on for hitting walls and obstacles making it very difficult to complete.
Obviously, with the complexity of VR there is no multiplayer – it’s all gamer vs. bots – but there’s a certain old school nostalgia to that as well. One shining star are the boss battles that pop up every three races and have a definite feel of dodging fire in a first-person Sega classic Panzer Dragoon.
As alluded to earlier, Neon Hat is a visual treat for an old school gamer like me. Between the wireframe landscapes, the 8-bit holograms floating by, and the square-brick obstacles in the path, Neon Hat is a visual trip back in time. The exclusive Synth-Wave soundtrack likewise elicits a nostalgic feeling, albeit thankfully more along the lines of early 2010’s Daft Punk than of 1980’s Jan Hammer. The music is hypnotic and warm without coming across as cheesy or contrived.
I had a pretty good time playing Neon Hat. It’s certainly not one of the best racing games on the PS4, nor is it one of the best VR games on PSVR, but as a complete package of gameplay and presentation it’s totally worth checking out because it oozes cool. And for those old school gamers who remember this stuff, you will have blast travelling back in time to look at the future we thought would be here already.