Though deckbuilding games are fairly common these days, Neurodeck takes a really different approach with its subject matter. Players take on the role of a character (only one is unlocked to start with) who’s battling a variety of Phobias in sometimes anthropomorphised, sometimes animalistic forms that each represent the specific fear they’re caused by.

Along the way, you’ll unlock new coping mechanisms, actions or items, which take the form of new cards to put into your deck and use with your three actions per turn (and paid for using Stamina). Eating pizza to regain action points (Stamina) and health (Sanity), for example, writing down your innermost thoughts in order to damage the attacking phobia or drinking tea as another way to relax and therefore regain energy. There’s a huge range of cards with some really interesting combos and abilities that you’ll need to carefully and cleverly use on your run against the various phobias; the game is structured as a roguelite, which means that once you lose your sanity altogether and have to start a new run, you’ll be starting at square one without any of the bonuses , abilities or new cards that were accrued over the previous run.

It has a bit of a steep learning curve, with some concepts that aren’t explained very well (or at all in some cases), but it’s absolutely worth getting your head around the various interlocking systems in Neurodeck. Though sometimes cards can seem a little odd in terms of their effects – the real standout for me being Tattoos, which causes Sanity damage to the player as well as Stamina damage to the Phobia – in general they’re well themed and reasonably sensitive in terms of their use.

The real stars of the show are the Phobias you’ll come up against; they’re superbly, thematically stylised in a way that can often be incredibly creepy, if not downright scary. The animation is brilliant and their accompanying sound design is great too. The soundtrack as a whole is excellent; Neurodeck is a game that’s absolutely dripping with an oppressive atmosphere, as befits its theme.

It can err on the side of being frustrating, however, particularly when you come up against a Phobia late in a run who absolutely destroys you. Yet there are tools at your disposal, with abilities that can be gained from taking psychological tests between Phobia rounds and ways to improve card abilities too; though it can be annoying to be kicked back to the beginning of a new run, it’s an incredibly addictive game and you’ll likely come back for another try sooner rather than later.

A word of warning though: real mental health conditions, phobias and sometimes unsettling coping mechanisms are depicted here; though it’s all fairly abstract, it’s possible to see how the way certain issues are treated in game may come across as insensitive and potentially triggering.

Despite the dark subject matter, Neurodeck is a refreshingly original take on deckbuilding/roguelite games – and it’s one that’s compellingly addictive once you get to grips with its sometimes obtuse mechanics.

Neurodeck is available now on Switch (version tested) and PC (here). Many thanks to Forever Entertainment for providing me with Neurodeck for review purposes.

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