It’s usually a good idea to follow the old adage not to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes that cover is just too good to resist. That was the case with Cyber Protocol, a game I knew I would be playing just a few seconds into its trailer, awash in flashing neon visuals and a pulsing synth score.
Like its trailer, Cyber Protocol greets you with a super stylish, illustrated (but not fully animated) intro sequence with a catchy synthwave soundtrack. It’s slick as hell and sets the tone for a cool hacker adventure presumably full of digital heists and sticking it to the Man, but don’t get used to it. The actual game takes place in a much different looking arena. Imagine a sprawling DayGlo Pac-Man maze where the goal is to find a way out of an automated death trap rather than to collect pellets — though there are plenty of coins and bonus items to pick up if that’s your thing.
Cyber Protocol starts out very simply. You control an avatar moving through a vast maze, avoiding deadly hazards to get to the exit. The trick here is that once you start moving in a given direction, you only stop when you hit a wall. Along the way, you can pick up coins to boost your score (solely for bragging rights) or bonus tokens to spend on new skins for your avatar. The hazards start with things like traps that activate a few seconds after you land on them, enemy avatars that move back and forth on a set route, or walls that blast you to bits if you touch them. The mazes are likewise simple, requiring little more than moving forward to reach the end and hardly more thought than that to collect all the items along the way.
Within a few short levels, things get much more complicated. New obstacles quickly pile up, like deadly, corridor-filling lasers and locked doors with matching keys, and you’ll find yourself navigating vast fields of spike traps and zipping between armies of hostile avatars before long. The mazes themselves also get progressively trickier, adding portals and disappearing walls, requiring a lot more thought on your part to come out the other side safely.
It’s not long before one of the main things Cyber Protocol starts demanding is trial and error. Death comes quickly in this game — one touch is enough to end your run — and often you’ll have to launch yourself through the digital maze with no idea what’s waiting for you at the end of the corridor, just hoping it’s not instant death. Even when all the dangers are visible, they can be hard to parse. Everything moves to its own clockwork rhythm, and you’ll need to time enemy movement, bursts of laser fire, and the second of safety you have before traps trigger, while taking into account any portals you’re passing through or any walls that your movement will create or destroy as you pass through special blocks.
It’s a lot to keep track of, and it sometimes gives the game a disjointed, lurching momentum, bouncing back and forth between precisely calculated moves and periods of breakneck speed. On the one hand, that pace can feel exhilarating, but that’s weighed against the scarcity of checkpoints often making you replay large sections of a maze when you screw up and the occasionally sticky controls that seem to sometimes respond just a fraction of a second too slowly to keep you out of danger. That becomes a bigger problem when later levels start to prioritize reflexes over actual puzzle solving.
On top of the main single-player classic mode, there’s also a competitive arcade mode for up to four players. It’s functionally the same as the single-player mode, but hey, playing basically anything on the couch with a couple of friends is more fun than playing it alone. The sheer amount of different obstacles and the sharp difficulty curve can make onboarding new players tough, but if you start them at the beginning, it’s quite easy to learn the ins and outs. Progressing through classic mode and collecting bonus tokens will also unlock new avatars, plus filters for the graphics and music so you can turn it into a monochrome game with a chiptune soundtrack if you so choose. One of the coolest extras is the music player, which lets you listen to any of the game’s music tracks if you want to keep Cyber Protocol’s particular brand of hacker vibes going when you’re not actually playing (if you’re writing a review of it, for instance).
Cyber Protocol is a solid choice if you’re looking for a puzzle game on the Switch. Its 100 levels are challenging enough to keep you occupied for quite a while without putting up any walls you can’t get through with enough perseverance, and its killer soundtrack and flashy graphics elevate it above what could otherwise be a somewhat repetitive puzzler. Its multiplayer mode is more of the same, but it would make a great intermission to a Hackers/Johnny Mnemonic double feature with some friends.
Cyber Protocol’s escape-the-maze puzzles are easy to grasp but quickly ramp up the difficulty with frequent twists and new mechanics. This neon-bathed, synth-scored puzzler offers both single-player and multiplayer modes and an absolute mountain of levels. It would be easy to dismiss Cyber Protocol as style over substance, but with this much style, that’s not entirely a bad thing.