Sometimes a game will come around and completely surprise you. Last year, I had that exact thing when playing Scarlet Nexus, and it’s happened all over again with Neon White. Essentially a fast-paced first-person speedrunner, it gives you plenty of tools to get to the finishing line, all while shooting enemies and using things known as Soul Cards to get there. At first, it feels like there’s not a ton of stuff going on outside of the short yet challenging levels, however, after getting further and further, there’s a deep story that both entertains with its dark humour and intriguing nature.
Neon White: Heaven is a place on Earth
You play as a character known only as Neon White, given a chance to live in Heaven for eternity, but only if you can clear out the Demon population living among you. It’s a basic premise with some unique ideas, introducing various other ‘Neons’ who may have known you in a past life. Yellow is a dude-bro who seems to worship you quite a bit; Violet is pretty kinky with a wicked sense of humour; Red is a seductive and passionate ally who has a big heart; and Green who is the reigning champion. Although they just appear as other characters who are fighting to live in heaven when you first meet, their lives seem deeply connected with you.
Other characters help to populate heaven, acting as go-betweens when visiting the hub world between episodes. Gabby and Mikey are a couple of cats who give you missions depending on whether or not you’ve improved your rank (done so by achieving a gold rank in levels), while also providing some light relief at the same time. They’re not the only characters you’ll chat with, as there’s a fair bit to do here, all playing out through visual novel style interactions. You can also earn tickets to spend in the shop, chat with your friends in a bar, or go chill out on the beach.
Addictive gameplay at every step
What makes Neon White so addictive is the fluidity of movement and combat, flowing together in a satisfying way. The main goal is to get from start to finish in the quickest time, eliminating all the demons as you go. You start off with a katana, but more guns and abilities become available as you play. It felt like a mix of Ghostrunner, Portal, and Mirror’s Edge, having to think fast to get the fastest time, and I honestly fell in love with it. A lot of the levels from Episode 3 onwards push you to really think about the best time to use the Soul Cards, and there might even be an alternate route that’ll shave a second or two off your time. For saying it’s so quick, there’s a hidden level of strategy, and I appreciated how Angel Matrix pulled everything together.
Soul Cards make Neon White so fun to play. Scattered across levels or from fallen enemies, these give you a particular ability as well as a weapon. Pistols are attached to the ability to jump a second time; SMGs will allow you to stomp through breakable surfaces; and a harpoon send you dashing horizontally to crash through enemies and across long drops. There’re more, as well, and can be built up and swapped around, however, using them accidentally or too soon will leave you unable to finish a level. The ability to restart by a simple press of the button sends you back to the start, and it happens pretty quickly. The emphasis on speed is at the forefront, but the sheer fun of combat comes a close second.
Neon White: Challenges aplenty
The pace of running and gunning is exhilarating, and I never got tired of trying to find ways of getting through levels. Even the tougher challenges became thrilling because of how well-designed they are. It’s certainly unique, with some gorgeous looking environments and inch-perfect platform-building. Neon White also oozes cool, whether in the music or the design. It definitely gives off Persona vibes, but it’s also its own game, with tight controls and that all-important addictive nature of gameplay. I also appreciated how responsive the controls are. It’s such a simple thing, but without this, the entire experience would become a frustrating mess.
Neon White is a magnificent take on the FPS-genre, building complex and thrilling levels where simply pulling the trigger isn’t enough. It forces you to be on your toes constantly, and a single lapse of concentration will send the entire run into disarray. With an entertaining story and a loveable cast of characters, a gorgeous aesthetic and stylish design, Angel Matrix have made something that will be adored by a lot of people. Once again, Annapurna has backed the right horse, and I can’t wait to keep playing this for a good while.
Satisfying and responsive gameplay
Hub world feels a little empty