Neon White is an exhilarating mix of fast-paced platforming and combat, married with a bizarre but often endearing visual novel.
It’s 1 AM, and I’m still playing Neon White, telling myself I’ll complete “just one more level” before finally heading to bed. Eventually, around 3 AM, I finally make good on that promise – and lay awake thinking about how I’d run those same levels again.
Not since Hades has a game scratched that moreish itch, and while Neon White does share some similarities with Supergiant’s dungeon-crawling magnum opus, you’re unlikely to find anything that looks or plays like it for a long time.
Neon White key details
- Price: $24.99/£19.99
- Developer: Angel Matrix
- Release date: June 16, 2022
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC
Neon White trailer
Neon White puts players in the shoes of, well, Neon White – a former assassin pulled from the rest of existence in hell, and offered a chance to reach heaven by competing with other sinners to earn a place there.
It’s the kind of premise that’d be right at home in a high-concept anime, and Neon White wisely leans into that with plenty of character.
White’s competition, all named after different colors, offer distinct personalities that begin as genre tropes (the “bro” Neon Yellow, or the femme fatale Neon Red) and begin to offer more story tidbits through flashbacks and visual novel style dialog options.
Neon White does a great job of unfolding its characters at just the right pace to keep players from skipping straight to the next chapter, and it all unfolds against a backdrop of a societal caste system between our loveable band of sinners and heaven’s more squeaky clean inhabitants.
The game’s campaign isn’t perfect, with writing in some spots feeling as subtle as a brick through a stained-glass window, but it poses the eternal question in interesting ways: Can we really outrun what we’ve done, or will our sins always define us?
Aside from several in-game areas that let White socialize with other characters, including cigar-chomping angel cats (yes, really), players can also hand over gifts found within missions to earn favor from characters. You’ll also earn fun social interactions in exchange for Heavenly Delight tickets, including White visiting a cinema to watch The Matrix.
Ballet of bullets
Between those visits to heaven, you’ll spend your time in bite-sized levels working through what essentially involves a sort of demon-slaying obstacle course where the aim is to complete each one as quickly as possible.
These missions can be as short as 20 seconds, and your attention will be split between killing every demon and reaching the goal via platforming. The genius is that the two go hand in hand – some demons can lift you to higher platforms, while many will drop “cards” that are used as both weapons and abilities.
Take the first card you’ll find, for example, which acts as a handgun. Naturally, it’s great for killing demons, but its unique “discard” action casts it aside in exchange for a single double jump. It’s not long before White is jumping, discarding one handgun to reach a higher spot and grab another, and so on.
Each weapon has its own discard action; from an assault rifle that can be used as a grenade, to an SMG that lets you power downwards with a stomp attack, or a semi-auto rifle that doubles as a dash, each has limited ammo which makes moment-to-moment decision making a core part of Neon White’s loop.
Grenades, stomps, and dash attacks can also break open doorways, while many levels offer multiple routes. Making use of all the tools at your disposal, plus the way White can move much faster when running on water, mean that things start to become almost choreographed after a few runs; run here, grenade here to boost up, shoot these two enemies, discard for extra height, and so on.
Restarts are instantaneous (at least on PC), and it’s not uncommon to spend a dozen tries trying to shave a couple of seconds off of your time.
Neon White challenges players to break it, and also to outdo friends, with a leaderboard setup that adds to the “just one more go” allure of it. Returning to levels brings its own reward, too, with ghost data and the gifts you can bring back to your fellow sinners.
There really is nothing like it, with the closest analogy being 2008’s The Club in terms of a score-based shooter, but Neon White keeps things simple with its unerring focus on speed.
If looks could kill
Neon White’s premise of battling back demons for a place in ivory-laden heaven lends itself to a gorgeous color palette of whites and blues with dashes of green. There’s an otherworldly, dream-like quality to its MC Escher-esque blend of staircases, waterfalls, and, uh, pitch-black demons set against pristine white columns.
The game takes some chances, too – White’s current weapon isn’t shown on screen, save for its “card” in the bottom right. These are color-coded to make them easier to read, but the game adds a stylized HUD component on the bottom left which serves no purpose other than to balance the screen and make it easier to focus on what’s directly ahead of you.
That applies to the soundtrack, too, which offers shimmering synth for a heavenly feel, but with drum and bass loops to offer some spikiness. The soundtrack doesn’t break between runs, either, meaning the more times you attempt a level, the closer you get to a bizarre form of trigger-happy euphoria.
As a package, it exudes cool, and even as levels move away from the safety of its white architecture, it never feels any less beautiful.
Neon White is a stylish, unique title that’s sure to see a dedicated community of speed runners and action game fans alike flock to it.
It’s like nothing I’ve played before, and I can’t stop thinking about its lucid but responsive gameplay even after playing for hours on end.
Reviewed on PC
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