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June 2024

Neon White

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Ben Esposito
Release Date: June 16, 2022


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PC Review - 'Neon White'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 15, 2022 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Neon White is a first-person action platformer about exterminating demons in Heaven.

Neon White puts you in the shoes of White, a recently deceased ne'er-do-well. He wakes, sans memory, in Heaven because the heavenly hosts have decided to take a large group of hell-bound individuals and offer them a singular chance at redemption: Be the "Neon" who kills the most demons in a contest. If White wants to avoid eternal hellfire, he'll need to prove he's the biggest badass. This is complicated by the fact that some of the other Neons are people he knew in his previous life, and they know more about him than he does himself.

Neon White is pretty much an anime adventure. There are a lot of familiar archetypes, like the goofy best friend, the violent young girl, and the silver-haired villain, and they all fill their niches pretty much to a T. The writing elevates it, and the game is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, especially as the voice actors do a superb job of selling some lines that might otherwise fall flat. It had serious moments, and every character has a grim backstory, but they don't overwhelm the general lighthearted tone.

You're placed in an area, and your goal is to kill every demon and reach the exit. Neon White isn't just about completing things. It's about completing things in as stylish and smooth a manner as possible. Demons are not huge threats on their own, and rather than struggling to defeat an individual foe, the focus is on figuring out the quickest way to clear out a room.

A big part of the game is that White doesn't have "traditional" weapons. He has skill cards, which serve two purposes. They can function as a weapon, which tends to fall into familiar categories like machine gun, shotgun, pistol and so on. Each card has limited ammo, but you can pick up more to increase available ammo. You can hold up to two cards at a time, but if you have fewer than two cards, you'll always have access to your katana card, which lets you do close-range melee damage and reflect bullets. It is rare to rely on the katana, though.

Skill cards are more distinctive than just weirdly named weapons; each card also has a second purpose. By discarding a skill card, you lose the weapon, but in exchange, you gain access to special mobility options. For example, the default pistol gives you an extra jump, the assault rifle provides an explosive mine that can kill multiple enemies, the shotgun yields a temporary guided dash, the submachine gun grants a powerful ground-pound, and so on. You can hold up to three of each card at a time, but getting a new card while you already have two will replace one.

These two mechanics comprise the general flow of the game. Each stage is laid out so that you can make a smooth, unbroken combo of your various tools to kill demons and overcome obstacles. Your goal is to finish the stages quickly enough to get at least a Gold ranking. You need to collect Gold rankings to progress the plot and raise your Neon ranking, so you'll need to replay stages until you can finish them in a stylishly cool way. Killing certain enemies will also drop skill cards, so using a skill card to kill an enemy feels like part of the natural flow of the game.

Generally, this is really fun. Stages are long enough to feel satisfying but not so long to feel frustrating when you break your combo and must restart. More to the point, it feels incredibly cool when you tear through enemies and bounce around like a superball. Getting a perfect run makes you feel damn cool, and there's plenty of room for optimization. With a bit of effort, you can achieve the coveted Ace ranking, which lets you view the global leaderboards to see how much improvement you can make.

There is one gimmick that I'm not fond of: gifts. After you get at least a Bronze rank on a stage, you unlock the ability to find a gift in the stage. Gifts can be given to other Neons to unlock dialogue, backstory, or bonus stages. The gifts are hidden in obscure locations and can't be gathered during a normal runthrough. In theory, this is a fun way to encourage players to consider areas of the levels that they normally wouldn't. In practice, it feels a little tedious and works against the smooth, fun gameplay. I don't mind replaying a stage to get a better time, but replaying it to find a specific spot on the map feels slow, especially since it is required to get the game's best ending.

Beyond the main adventure, you have a number of Persona­-like side-quests where you can spend time with and learn more about the various Neons and Angels. There is no time limit, but you need gifts to attract their attention. This leads to cut scenes, including ones that detail what happened before the cast died, collectible items for White's room, and side-quests that involve specialized runs through challenge areas.

The side-quests are a lot of fun. Each character has their own quirk. Neon Yellow is a straightforward dude, so his challenges involve finishing special levels without any discard abilities. Neon Red is the polar opposite, with stages based almost exclusively around proper use of discards. The sadistic Neon Violet has a horrifying hellscape full of deadly spikes that requires you to maneuver carefully, and so on. They are neat ways to recontextualize the game without slowing it down, like gift collecting does.

Neon White is a pretty nice-looking game. The graphics aren't overwhelmingly amazing, but the solid art style helps it shine, and it does a great job of keeping the vital areas bright and distinctive. Where the game shines is in the voice acting and the soundtrack. The voice acting is almost universally superb and brings a ton of character to what could otherwise be cookie-cutter characters. The humor lands a lot harder because the characters know how to pace their dialog, and it adds chemistry to the interactions. The soundtrack is a variety of pulse-pounding songs that get your heart beating faster. Even when I was restarting a stage for the fifth time trying to shave off one or two seconds from the clock, I never got tired of them.

Neon White is an absolute delight of a speed-running game. It's easy to pick up and play, and it has enough bite that you need to master how to shave off a few seconds from your time to proceed. More importantly, it feels really good to do so. The plot is fun, if not groundbreaking, and the likeable characters keep you invested. Aside from some backtracking that I wasn't fond of, Neon White hits all the marks and hits them well. Just be prepared to start playing and discover that eight hours have flown by.

Score: 9.0/10

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