Neon White review: Down with the quickness
Earn your spot in Heaven by racing through cleverly designed levels and slaughtering pesky demons.
Neon White from developer Angel Matrix and Ben Esposito (Donut County, What Remains of Edith Finch) is a must-play, fast-paced action platformer that blends elements of different game genres from parkour and shooting to anime-esque narrative adventures together to create something wholly unique.
As you run, jump, and dash your way through Neon White, you’ll not only find yourself comfortably falling into the natural rhythm of each platforming puzzle, you’ll also find yourself eager to replay stages and beat your previous score, or your friends’ scores, or both. You may even find it hard to break free from the “just one more level” loop once the game hooks you. And trust me, it most certainly will!
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
The game opens with some much-needed backstory on who your character is, where they are, why they’re there, and what they have to do to get out. Starting with the “who” question, your character is a Neon named White, a dead assassin who joins other dead assassins known as Neons, like Neon Yellow and Neon Violet, in slaughtering demons. Not because they chose to, but because they’ve been given the opportunity to leave the tortures of Hell behind and earn a lifetime of bliss in Heaven by clearing out an assortment of demon invaders.
If demon slaughtering your way into Heaven isn’t enough, there’s also a time limit attached, with the overarching goal being that you must work to be the quickest, most efficient Neon of the bunch. Only one Neon will be permitted entry into Heaven after 10 days have passed, which turns the concept from intriguing to somewhat sad as you get to know the rest of the Neons more.
Only one can win in the end, so it's a "make friends at your own emotional risk" kind of situation. Neon White strongly encourages you to get to know the rest of the Neons better too, in addition to unlocking memories that add context to White's character backstory. It does this in a visual novel sort of way. Not just in aesthetic, but also in things like being able to give gifts to various characters, improve your relationship with them, and explore each of their storylines further.
Some have compared parts of character interaction in Neon White to Hades, and I can definitely see that. Unlike Hades though, you can fast-forward through nearly every bit of dialogue and story segment that pops up over the course of the roughly 10-hour-long game just as quickly as you're able to clear levels. Even without having beaten the game first.
I definitely don’t recommend doing this as you’ll end up missing out on a lot of context and fun moments, especially between the Neons. That said, it’s also nice that the option to skip all of it and focus exclusively on the game’s phenomenal platforming is provided to you given how strong this element is in Neon White.
Design wise, each Neon is distinctly unique and I loved the art style of the game, particularly in regards to character and enemy design. Some of the levels can look same-y, especially in the earlier portions of the game, but the challenges for each are so different that level aesthetic isn't as critically important. It becomes a backdrop to what you're actually focused on, namely platforming accuracy and ridding the level of all its demons.
Sound wise, the music is catchy and fits the game's pacing. That said, the game could also stand to have a few more tracks added in. Sounds for effects like shooting and movement have been paid closer attention to and do a great job at further adding to Neon White’s memorable action.
The platforming is where Neon White really shines as each level is cleverly designed to both help you get to the end as quickly as possible, and trick and distract you into adding a few more seconds to your finish time. This is important, as at the end of each level you get a medal depending on how well you did and how quickly you were able to get through everything, with medals including Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Ace.
To encourage level replays, the game won’t let you advance forward to the levels on offer in the next mission set until you’ve increased your rank by a certain amount. For example, you’ll need to increase your rank 5 times in the first mission in order to advance to the next. For many, that’ll mean replaying levels you haven’t earned a Gold medal (or Ace medal if you're able to snag one) on.
In the game’s earlier missions this is quite simple as you’ll naturally end up memorizing where to go in each level, and where any shortcuts might lie. As you get farther and farther into the game, however, you’ll be presented with more complex challenges that can require more than one or two replays of a level in order to beat.
Levels are also delightfully quick to complete, with many falling under the 30 second mark, making it a perfect pick if you’re looking for something that’s easy to pick up and put down at your convenience.
It’s not just that you need to complete levels quickly, a degree of precision is required as well in order to not get stuck halfway through. Fortunately, there’s no shame or inconvenience in making use of Neon White’s satisfyingly quick level restart feature. On PC, just press F and you’re instantly back at the start ready to try again… and again, and again.
As they say, practice makes perfect and that’s definitely the case in Neon White. In a way, Neon White almost feels like a rhythm game at times, with you working to move as fluidly and efficiently as possible and nail the timing of when you use each of your cards.
The Choice is Yours
Something I really liked about Neon White is the focus on player choice. Not only in how you approach a level and find the quickest way through, but also in how you use the game’s card system. For example, there's a card called Purify that lets you shoot a gun at demons which is always fun, but also lets you throw a bomb to clear multiple demons at once as well. Not only can it do those two things, you can also use the Purify card's bombs to help boost you up to higher, harder to reach platforms.
Regardless of how you choose to utilize a card (demon killing, platforming, movement) it's important to not to be too impulsive with the cards you're given, or wasteful. For example, by expending the bullets of a gun which will then cause you to discard that card, rather than saving it for its alternate ability like tossing a bomb which could end up killing a greater number of foes. Or using a card for its ability too quickly rather than seeking out ways to avoid using it, and saving it for a better opportunity later.
Something else to keep in mind as well is that if you run out of cards completely you can get stuck which will then force you to restart the level, as cards are again not just for combat but for movement as well.
Learning how each card works is key not only in not wasting them, but in uncovering cheeky ways to get through a level quicker and bypass things like doors as well. You really get a nice, exhilarating speedrunning feeling in Neon White with the multiple ways in which you can clear a level, both conventional and unconventional.
You also feel like you're rewarded for experimenting even when it results in having to restart, or a clear time that isn't as impressive as you were hoping for. Circling back to the topic of options though, you also don’t have to approach the game that way if it’s not your forte. Doing well enough to get through levels and work through each mission set is more than enough, regardless of whether your level completion time is better or worse than that of your friends.
Heaven and Hell
The only negatives that stood out to me while playing Neon White weren’t tied to gameplay at all, but instead came via the game’s story which I don’t think is bad by any means, though it certainly isn’t done any favors in how it’s presented either.
With the ability to fast-forward through all story and dialogue sections at lightning speed even regardless of whether you’ve beaten the game yet or not — and the understandable urge to do so to keep after racing through levels in less than a minute — the story can end up feeling unimportant, unnecessary, and at times, out of place.
Pair that with cringey anime cheesiness in some of the dialogue, and it gets even more tempting to skip some, or all, of the story in order to focus on the game’s polished platforming. Which is a shame, as the idea of a damned soul being assigned the role of demon cleanup in Heaven is an interesting premise.
That aside, if platforming, speedrunning, and parkour are your thing, you’ll absolutely love Neon White regardless of how you feel about its story. Likewise, if you like games with an interesting story and characters, particularly ones that are in more of an anime style, you’ll also love Neon White regardless of how you feel about platforming games. It’s a fantastic blend, and one you don’t expect to work as cohesively as it does.
If I had to sum it all up into a single sentence, I'd simply say that Neon White is truly one of the most enjoyable and original feeling platformers that I've seen in a while, and one that's well worth checking out.
This review is based on a digital PC code provided by the publisher. Neon White is available now for PC and Nintendo Switch for $24.99 USD.
- Clever platforming and level design
- Perfect parkour that'll give you a nice rush of adrenaline
- Interesting story with unique characters
- Addicting gameplay loop, easy to pick up and put down
- Cohesive blend of genres
- Some cringeworthy story moments and dialogue
Morgan Shaver posted a new article, Neon White review: Down with the quickness