First-person shooters, precision platformers, puzzle games, social sims, and the concept of speedrunning are all individually big topics in the gaming community. But until now, no one was crazy enough to mix them all together. Well here comes developer Ben Esposito with his team at Angel Matrix, who have done exactly that. In the marketing publisher Annapurna Interactive has repeatedly used the phrase “for freaks, by freaks” making one thing abundantly clear: Neon Whitemight not be a game for everyone, but it will most certainly be for someone. Now the question becomes how wide the net cast by it is.
In Neon White you play as White, an assassin who is invited into heaven to participate in the Ten Days of Judgment, a yearly competition in which sinners are given the chance to join heaven, should they win. How do you win? By killing demons of course. Competitors are called Neons, making you the titular Neon White. Each of them are forced to wear a mask containing an explosive to ensure that participants behave, reminiscent of something like The Suicide Squad. While you can’t remember anything from your past, there are a couple of faces that seem familiar, such as Neon Yellow, Red, Violet, and the previous champion Neon Green.
The story in Neon White is… serviceable. It’s not bad by any means, but it doesn’t stand out as particularly great either, especially considering how incredible a lot of the other aspects of the game are. There are some themes Neon White is dealing with such redemption and who is deserving of second chances, but again, nothing crazy. There really isn’t much to say about the story, except it’s probably not the reason Neon White will stick in your mind after you’re done with it. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure you will remember Neon White for other reasons.
The gameplay is where Neon White really shines. The game is separated into chapters, each consisting of multiple levels, in which you’ll have to navigate through a parkour and kill the demons in them as fast as possible. To do that you’ll have to pick up Soul Cards, which are spread throughout the levels. These function as your weapons, such as pistols, rifles, shotguns etc. but they also all have a secondary use that enable new types of movement, such as double jump or a dash. Chapter by chapter Neon White introduces new Soul Cards, and along with that new mechanics, creating a steadily increasing difficulty curve that’s exceptionally well balanced and ensuring that the game feels fresh until the very end. Because of that constant innovation Neon White is also one of the few games that I can confidently say gets consistently more fun as it goes along.
Once you’ve beaten a level you can choose to play through it again, and you’ll definitely want to. Firstly, because Neon White encourages speed running with different types of medals that you can earn based on your time, and in-game leader boards that let you compare your times with friends and the rest of the world. Secondly, because every level contains a gift that you can collect. Trying to get your hands on the gifts will completely change your approach to the levels, turning them from a high-speed FPS precision platformer into a puzzle game, where you’ll have to use your environment and the resources in it to the best of your abilities. Both approaches to each level are equally fun and compliment each other in a great way.
Inbetween chapters you will have access to the hub world.
Here is where the social sim aspect of Neon White comes into play. You can use the gifts that you’ve collected throughout the levels to increase your relationship with the different characters, unlocking new dialogue, additional levels with unique gimmicks, and memories of your past life. Sadly, I have to say that the characters aren’t exactly original, in fact you’ve probably met them in other games before. You have the seductive femme fatale that teases you constantly in Neon Red, the horny psychopath alt-girl in Neon Violet, and Neon Yellow, who is essentially Ryuji from Persona 5.
Nevertheless, they’re all very fun to interact with and, I would argue, quite well written. This, I assume, might be a point of contention. The dialogue mostly consists of jokes and Neon White has a sense of humour that might not work for everyone. It’s by no means as abrasive as something like the Borderlands franchise, but it’s filled with references to anime and video games, and just has a certain cringe factor to it that might simply be annoying to some people. However I found that the game embraces these things to such a degree that it comes full circle and works again.
This is all part of the style that Neon White goes for, and it sure is a stylish game. There is an edginess to it, the “for freaks, by freaks” motto becomes the most apparent in the aesthetic it goes for. But even if that isn’t for you, I think it would be hard to argue that it isn’t well executed. It might not be the game with the highest graphical fidelity, but it’s good looking game with art direction that, combined with the other aspects of Neon White, creates a wholly complete aesthetic.
The Soundtrack is another part of that style. The tracks that artist Machine Girl has composed for Neon White are all bangers that get the adrenaline pumping and perfectly compliment the fast paced nature of the gameplay.
While Ben Esposito might have aimed to make a game specifically for the freaks out there with an aesthetic that could be too much for some people, I think he has inadvertently created a gameplay loop so addicting, that even the more innocent souls will want to repeatedly come back for more of Neon White.
Nairon played Neon White on PC with his own copy. Neon White is also available on the Nintendo Switch.