PC, Nintendo Switch
June 16, 2022
Neon White is a first-person action game where the goal is to get through each stage as fast as possible. With a stunning yet minimalist art direction and elegantly smooth gameplay, Neon White is hard to put down once you start, and an easy recommend for anyone looking for a unique and challenging experience.
To forgive, divine
Neon White takes place in Heaven, where the soul of an amnesiac assassin named White wakes up alongside several other mysterious masked individuals. White and his fellow masked contestants, called Neons, are damned souls chosen by Heaven’s guardians to slay demons for a potential opportunity to stay in Heaven permanently and find redemption. Along the way, White uncovers mysteries surrounding his past and the pasts of other Neons, and a sinister conspiracy that threatens the entire afterlife.
While White and his fellow Neons don’t start out as especially nuanced characters, they grow over time as the narrative develops. Neon White’s themes of forgiveness and redemption, and coming to terms with your mistakes, suited the heavenly setting quite appropriately. Many of the supporting characters, from the abrasive Angel chief Mikey to the sycophantic and self-absorbed Believers, were also quite memorable and fun to have around.
Dealing a strong hand
In each of the 100 stages in Neon White, you must slay every demon and then get to the goal as fast as possible. Each of these stages is very brief, ranging from around 30 seconds to only a few minutes for the lengthier ones. White kills demons using Soul Cards, which can take the form of a weapon such as a pistol, shotgun, or bazooka, or discarded for a variety of movement abilities. The key to success is using your cards in the right order and at the right moment to cut the most efficient path forward. New mechanics and Soul Cards are drip-fed to the player every few stages, maintaining a steady sense of progress.
Neon White is all about speed, and its mechanics fully facilitate this style of play. Soul Cards are placed right before they are needed, whether that’s an Elevate card when you need to do a double jump or a Godspeed card to cross a gap. The skill comes from using them most efficiently, taking out groups at a time, being conservative with resources, timing jumps, and discarding abilities correctly. What’s more, if you screw up and discard a crucial card before you can use it properly, levels can be reset at the press of a button. Due to how short each level is, I never found the trial-and-error nature of Neon White especially frustrating, as any mistake generally cost me only a few seconds.
“I’m thoroughly impressed at how easy it is to master Neon White’s mechanics.”
I’m thoroughly impressed at how easy it is to master Neon White’s mechanics. The level design does an excellent job of guiding the player through stages by using eye-catching Soul Card and demon placement, and level details such as water streams, vegetation, and occasionally fellow Neons to provide instant direction towards the goal to achieve high scores.
Mastering levels unlocks hidden secrets and clues to additional shortcuts to encourage replaying them. Optional side-missions impose special parameters, like being full of traps or only being able to use discard abilities, to truly test your skills.
Trouble in paradise
Unfortunately, Neon White’s momentum is interrupted on occasion by its boss fights. The gameplay loop of “zoom through the levels killing demons” doesn’t work as well when the goal is changed to “reduce a big bad guy’s health bar to zero”. While the boss fights often try and maintain the energy of the main levels by forcing White to chase them through an obstacle course, it is let down by how long those boss fights could take compared to the main stages. One late-game boss had a recommended completion time of around 5 minutes, which is substantially longer than any other stage, and the lack of mid-level checkpoints made dying to a mistimed jump or stray enemy projectile especially infuriating. Fortunately, there are not many boss fights, so it is not something that frequently impacts the experience.
A repetitive afterlife
The various locales of Heaven that you visit in Neon White feel somewhat similar on a visual front; when every level is a bunch of floating disconnected towers and office buildings with a spectacular skybox behind them, they can start to blend in with one another after a while. However, this does make the optional side missions and many of the later levels feel a lot more distinct, as they use different and more varied colour palettes and felt more memorable as a result.
Still, considering how much Neon White’s design depends on its levels being immediately readable and easy to navigate at a glance, I appreciate that maintaining a consistent style probably helps in that regard. It is just an unfortunate trade-off that it prevents most of the levels from standing out on the visual side of things.
An entrancing experience
Minor imperfections and quibbles aside, it is hard to understate how engaging I found Neon White in the end. Its lightning-quick pace and well-designed levels make it very easy to get in the zone and become immersed in its addictive gameplay loop of dashing and shooting through its levels. I was always keen to unlock new tricks to shave off a second or two from my time.
For the truly competitive among you, the game keeps global leaderboards for levels that you have mastered, allowing you to compare your score with friends and other players around the world. With additional post-game content to explore, I’ll be staying with Neon White beyond the 8 or so hours that its main campaign takes to complete.
- Easy to learn, hard to master speedrunning mechanics
- Soul Card system elegantly combines first person shooting and platforming
- Minimalist level design is nice to look at, and great at directing the player
- Intriguing plot and engaging cast of characters
- Occasional slow-paced boss fights ruin the momentum
- Not a lot of visual variety in level designs
Neon White is a truly unique first-person action experience. With its clever level design and Soul Card system, chaining together demon-slaying and platforming to get to the goal the quickest is a breeze. The game’s compelling cast and setting draw you into its story, and the wealth of side content and drive to improve on one’s scores will keep you coming back. Even its sluggish boss fights and somewhat samey visual style doesn’t do much to hold the game back. If you are looking for a truly unique indie action title, you should definitely check out Neon White.