‘Neon White’ review: fast, smooth, amusing

Being condemned to hell has never been this fun

Put simply, first-person shooter Neon White is a speedrunner’s dream. With satisfying movement, a whole suite of powers to play with, and built-in leaderboard features it seems likely people will be trying to shave milliseconds off their times in this game for a long time.

The game wastes very little time in making its mission statement to the player, sending them right into the first level after minimal plot exposition. Entitled ‘Movement’, the opening level teaches you exactly this. After sliding around on the water (which acts as an accelerant) and having the “you’re going fast” particles appear on-screen, it’s hard not to be immediately enamoured with the game’s sense of speed. Press a button and you’re hurled into the next level with a timer ticking, a constant reminder crouched at the edge of your screen for you to keep moving. Neon White is rapid.

The loop is executed very well, and chances are each time you finish a level you’ll be wrestling with thoughts of replaying it immediately to grind out a better time. Neon White uses a medal system and achieving certain times on each stage will get you better awards. With each subsequent medal, you’ll have access to something else on the stage. For example, each level has a shortcut that a hint will reveal after the player achieves a gold time, enabling them to improve to platinum with this newfound knowledge. You’ll need to earn a certain number of gold medals to progress the story as missions are locked behind ‘Neon Rank’, a rank that only increases if you feel the need for speed. This never felt unreasonably difficult but does serve to make sure the player is embracing the spirit of the game rather than getting poor level times and simply moving on.

Neon White. Credit: Angel Matrix
Neon White. Credit: Angel Matrix.

While grinding the best times may not interest everyone, the puzzle-solvers will be drawn in by the hidden gift collectibles present in every stage. After your first run through every level, a gift will appear somewhere on the stage. These can be given to specific characters in the hub area, Heaven. These will almost always require some problem-solving to obtain. After a scouting mission to actually locate the things, you’ll have to figure out which powerups you’ll need to reach them.

Here, rather than encouraging you to be fast, the game does the exact opposite and you’ll need to take things slow and conserve powerups because gifts are often either at a large height or far away. This leads to situations where instead of mashing powerups to progress quickly, you’ll creep up to an enemy and use your default katana to slowly kill them in order to stockpile for the gift puzzle. Grabbing a tough-to-reach gift after numerous tries is very satisfying, collectibles put the puzzle in this puzzle platformer.

Speaking of the aforementioned powerups, these are what add movement complexity to Neon White. These powerups take the form of guns which are gradually introduced as you progress. Developer Angel Matrix has made an interesting design choice in that guns never visually appear in the player’s hands and are instead represented by cards in the bottom-right of the screen. This is intentional as the developers want you to view the guns as movement tools rather than weapons.

The secondary ability of the weapons is the interesting part, players can discard their weapon in exchange for motion. Double jumps, air dashes, Mario-esque stomps, it’s all in there. This is where Neon White lets you express yourself, if you think a well-executed bomb jump into an air dash will allow you to finish the stage faster then go right ahead and give it a go. Some levels, especially the character sidequests we’ll talk about later, require you to perform swift combinations to progress which is just incredibly fun and rewarding.

An enemy from Neon White with the elevate ability visible in the foreground.
Neon White. CREDIT: Angel Matrix

In regards to the shooting itself, killing demons doesn’t feel rewarding outside of the occasional flick shot as you fly through the air. Besides particular enemies who one-shot you, the demons do not pose a significant threat. Most demons can be approached slowly and hacked down with the default katana. While this is clearly a design choice, demons and weapons clearly exist primarily to facilitate movement, players who expected a meaty shooter may be disappointed with what they get in Neon White. As all demons on a stage need to be slain to progress, they sometimes feel like tools to ensure the player is sequencing through the stage correctly rather than skipping large swathes of it. More often, as some demons drop powerups upon death, they are placed in an obvious manner to enable a player to maintain momentum through the stage.

Setting-wise, in Neon White you play as, well, Neon White. White is a poor soul who has been judged unfavourably and must battle demons for a chance to stay in heaven. However, he is in competition with his fellow Neons as there is only one spot up for grabs. If that sounded like an anime plot, that’s because Neon White is essentially an anime parody.

The characters White interacts with are intentionally and amusingly stereotypical, the “dudebro”, the cute deranged alt girl, and the flirtatious domineering love interest. The titular character has developed amnesia since his death and even though he knew some of the other characters in life, none of them seem willing to fill him in on his relationships. This enforces a layer of mystery in the plot, as everyone seems content to tease White about his past instead of telling him anything about it. Pop-culture references, satirical anime stereotypes and amusing dialogue constitute interaction in Neon White – the game does not take itself seriously. The character art is superb, too.

Neon White in dialogue with Neon Red and Neon Violet from the game Neon White.
Neon White. CREDIT: Angel Matrix

When they aren’t doing missions, the player is present in Heaven. Rather than a location you explore in first-person, Heaven is a top-down map where you choose who to talk to. It’s primarily used to accept new missions and give gifts you’ve collected to characters. Speaking of giving gifts, every gift doled out will give White more “insight” into that particular character, unlocking a new scene of dialogue, a memory from White’s past involving that character or very cool sidequests.

Each of the characters has their own special rules in their respective sidequest stages, differentiating them from the main stages. Neon Yellow’s quests, for example, don’t allow the player to use the gun’s movement abilities and are instead focused purely on perfecting your jumps and camera movement. These quests allow you to play the game in a whole different way and act as a refresher between the main stages.

Neon White launches on June 16 for PC and Nintendo Switch. We played on PC. 

The Verdict

Neon White was designed with a clear philosophy in mind and it shows. It’s about smooth movement, interesting level design, creative puzzle solutions and most of all, speed. Those looking for a shooter may be disappointed, but players who are looking for the aforementioned attributes will certainly not be. Amusing characters and a lighthearted tone are just icing on the cake on this very well-designed platformer. If you enjoy the game’s first level, then you likely won’t be dropping Neon White any time soon.

Pros

  • Very satisfying movement and core experience
  • Clever dialogue and characters
  • Stages have significant replayability value
  • Light-hearted atmosphere and tone

Cons

  •  A weaker shooter experience
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