Neon White is one of those games that feels like it was designed with one purpose in mind: Speedrunning. To be fair, that is precisely what the developers were thinking while putting together the levels. However, this is not a speedrunning game where you glitch through walls or spend countless hours finding the fast route.
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The most considerable feat this game accomplishes is the fact that it makes the process of speedrunning itself faster. It’s a masterclass in level design, and you start to appreciate the heart and soul that went into this game the more you play it.
Neon White is a first-person platformer that also happens to be a card game with speed-running elements. That’s already a lot, but there’s more. As for the plot, the writing is in your face by being downright campy but also self-aware.
Last but not least, the music makes you feel like you are in a trance-like state. A trance that feels like a fever dream, a hallucination, and frustration simultaneously. If you are unfamiliar with the game, not much of what I’m saying will make sense.
Heaven, Hell, And Salvation
So, you now have a general idea of how this game plays and what it’s about. If you want to know more, here’s a short version. The game takes place in “heaven.” You play a character called Neon White. Any prior memories you had before entering heaven are gone. As such, you’re starting as a clean slate.
As the game describes, Neons are sinners plucked from Hell to do God’s dirty work. Neons compete during the ten days of judgment each year to earn salvation. The Neon that kills the most demons gets to spend a year in heaven.
You’ll run into fellow Neons Yellow, Red, and Violet along the way. Remember, you don’t have any memories, but these Neons claim to know you from your life on Earth. There’s also Neon Green, who serves as the main antagonist of this game.
While it sounds like a lot is going on with the plot here, it fades away into the background and lets the gameplay shine for the most part.
Razor-Sharp Level Design
Neon White’s level design is intricate, complex, and designed with player intention in mind. At first glance, the objective is simple for each level. Get in, kill every demon in sight, and get out. Of course, there’s a catch. In this case, every level is like a parkour puzzle you have to solve. Then there are the cards.
Neon White presents weapons in the form of cards. You get a pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle, assault rifle, and more. All of these weapons are cards. When a card is selected, you can left-click to shoot at the enemy. However, if you right-click, that will activate the card’s ability.
Right-clicking discards the card from your deck. If you discard the pistol card, you’ll do a double jump. Tossing the sniper rifle gives you a speed boost. When you discard the assault rifle, you can launch a grenade at enemies or use that grenade to bounce off walls and floors quickly.
Neon White quickly turns into a parkour game where you can double jump, air dash, and grapple your way through to the exit. It becomes highly addictive as you unlock new cards while playing.
The beauty of it is that it’s quite a challenge but a fair one. All the cards you need to nail the level ideally are given to you. It comes down to how you use those cards to traverse the level.
You’ll quickly discover that there is more than one way to complete the level. There are shortcuts nearly everywhere you look, and that is what makes the gameplay loop so addicting. Everything is designed so well that when you nail a level, the game feels almost flattering to the player.
The Race For Ace
Annapurna Interactive’s Neon White is a game that can be pretty challenging for many players. However, the difficulty curve here is well-balanced and never feels unfair. It’s a game designed for speedrunning but does not demand perfection. The visual language, sharp graphics, and deliberate use of color communicate well with the player.
The player will rarely feel lost within the world of Neon White. You’ll know when to double jump, when to dash, and when to stomp. The gameplay mechanics sneak their way into your mind and start to become muscle memory.
Each level has medals awarded to the player based on their time. A silver medal isn’t that bad until you look at the shiny blue Ace medal. There’s also two leaderboards within this game. There’s a global leaderboard and one that you share with your friends.
This is a genius addition to the game and one that sometimes feels evil. Very rarely do most people care for leaderboards in games. However, since you’re already going fast in Neon White, why not go for that shiny ace medal?
I thought I would be done with Neon White in 10 hours. I promptly spent my time replaying levels just to get an ace in all of them. It takes a lot out of you, but you just can’t put it down.
Circling back to the leaderboards, if you have a friend that plays this game, this starts to become something else entirely. You’ll constantly try to one-up each other on the leaderboard.
All of this works well because of the level design, weapon mechanics, and the game’s visual language.
The only polarizing part of this game is the plot. Thanks to the precise and elegant loop that lures you in, Neon White can be utterly addicting. However, some people do not enjoy the plot as much as the gameplay. You’d think a game that involves assassin’s being plucked from purgatory to cull heaven’s demons would have serious writing.
That’s not the case here. As you can tell from the cutscenes and character design, this is what Angel Matrix calls “a heavenly anime FPS”. The main premise/core concept around the plot is actually surprisingly interesting.
It’s the dialogue that can be a bit hit or miss. Neon White’s story is told in a visual novel style, one that includes unconventional characters. These characters include gym bros, goth girls, a dominatrix of sorts, and a cigar-smoking cat that rides a cloud.
It’s certainly something, that’s for sure. The dialogue is deliberately cheesy, and it’s going for the “so bad it’s good” type of appeal. Honestly, I should not have enjoyed the dialogue. However, that’s just personal preference.
It’s easy to see why many people hate this game’s dialogue. It doesn’t matter if it’s deliberate or not, the writing is cringe-worthy enough to turn some people away. Unless you’re someone like me who enjoys the “so bad it’s good” sort of stuff.
Hints And Gifts
To wrap up this review, let’s talk about two more mechanics. First, the hint system. Neon White is a game that encourages you to finish a level quickly. It then tells you to do it again, but faster.
You unlock your ghost when you finish a level for the first time. This is similar to many racing games. You can chase this ghost to beat your own best time.
Hints are usually unlocked after you get a gold medal in the level. These give you a good idea about shortcuts. Not only that, but there’s usually more to the hints than what the game gives you.
Play the game enough, and you’ll search for these shortcuts yourself. After the first two chapters, I knew exactly what to look for. Most of the levels can be completed in under 30 seconds.
Then, there’s the gift system. Within each level, there is one hidden gift that you can find. You can then give these gifts to other Neons in the game’s central hub. This unlocks dialogue, memories, and sidequests.
If you want to know more about the story, you’ll want to claim all the gifts. Getting all of them can be annoying, but I enjoyed the game enough to go through with it. It’s worth going through the effort just for the sidequests.
Every sidequest for each character has a different flavor to it. It’s a nice challenge and a good break from the primary levels.
Neon White Is Worth Every Penny
Neon White is a game that goes above and beyond where it matters the most: the gameplay. It’s a speedrunning parkour game with ingenious level design. If you’re someone who has a passion for game design, play this game for some inspiration.
It’s rare to see a game that is so addictive without being predatory these days. The fact that you can instantly hit “F” to reset every level further fuels the fire. If you liked Doom Eternal, Mirror’s Edge, or even Ghostrunner, this game is a must-buy.
Ingenious level design
Speedrunning that everyone can enjoy
A vibrant art style and visual language
Addictive and satisfying gameplay
An intoxicating soundtrack
Some people will hate the dialogue
The central hub feels a bit empty
Neon White Review
Neon White is what you get when you combine a visual novel and a blazing-fast first-person platformer. The card combat, level design, and core gameplay are all a masterclass in game design. Easy to play, and hard to master. The perfect challenge.