Cyberpunk, you may have noticed, is in. It’s easy to imagine why: Cyberpunk 2077 is the most anticipated game of the year, and the wait for it has been a long one – but also, a resurgence in a genre dedicated to the fears of technological overreach, the dilemmas that poses for human agency and purpose, and the catastrophic, corruptive power unchecked capitalism has over our governments, our rights and our lives just feels sort of right at the moment, doesn’t it?
Neon Noodles, despite a somewhat superficial name, nudges up against some of that. It’s a game about placing robots, workstations, and consumers in the most efficient positions available, cutting fish, boiling rice, preparing sushi – about, then, replacing jobs of legendary human craft, satisfying insatiable consumer demand, and minimising costs. Cyberpunk!
It’s a simple game, best approached like a series of hypnotising, late-evening puzzles. Each round you’re faced with a grid, a selection of equipment, and an order that needs fulfilling – five mushroom quiches, say, or six nigiri. You place little stations for each step of the order, so: a station for the robot to pick up the fish; a station to chop it; a station to pick up the rice; a station to boil it; a station to combine both. You then have to program your robot’s order of actions, including the intricacies of a separate action to put down, chop, pick back up that one piece of fish, and hopefully that program works. If it doesn’t, you snip and tinker and fiddle with the order like a kind of video editor – sequence playing out in front of you, with accompanying timeline, Adobe-style, along the bottom, including everything down to the directional turn and the moments waited while sushi rice boils – until it does.
Then, when it works, the robot whirrs and bumps from one station to the next, over and over, faster and faster, until it’s flying round your little circle, the order completes and you get a score – and you realise you’re in the top fraction-of-a-percent of players, or somewhere in the unsatisfying middle. You get an urge, deep and primal, to economise, to maximise, to cut and chop and go through a process of “restructuring”, you get into the mindset of an industry boss. And that’s when you get a surprisingly good sense of how all this cyberpunk stuff might come about.