There are few things I dislike less about games: card-based combat systems and fast-paced racing. Not because there is anything wrong with them, but more so because I immediately get nervous about them. Am I using the correct deck construction? Is this the right way to go to achieve the best time? How many times do I have to do this before I get this right? All of these issues ultimately boil down to one resolution: I’m not good enough and I don’t have the patience to improve.
So when Neon White fell into my lap, a game that mixes a card-based system with time-based levels, I understandably became quite disgusted. Even before hitting the start button, I was like “oh fuck, this is going to be hard to get through”. It’s not just me – both of these genres are hard for a wide audience of gamers to crack. Still, Neon White draws you in with its bizarre mix of puzzle-based first-person shooter and story-driven narration – similar to Persona 5. An FPS with an anime-style concept about what happens to evildoers after death, you say? I’m on board now.
Annapurna Interactive’s Neon White, developed by Angel Matrix, is a crazy speedrunning FPS platformer unlike anything you’ve played.
Neon White: Heaven is a Journey
The main protagonist, Neon White, wakes up with memory loss. Thrown into a lush sky, two angelic beings known as the Believers speak to him: the President of Punishments and the Master of Mercies, agents of God. All you know is that you are a sinner and you unwittingly enter a contest to decide which sinner gets a place in heaven, known as The Ten Days of Judgment. Your task is to kill the demons occupying the sky.
Far-fetched, right? Well, your character thinks so too. It reminds me of the hundreds of Isekai anime: taken to an enigmatic afterlife world, your character not knowing what’s going on but must quickly abide by the rules of the world. To start, Neon White receives a katana soul card, aka “A Totally Sick Samurai Sword” that cannot be discarded. You’re given a slick devil mask (more so to further the game’s art style) that explodes if you don’t complete the required objectives, and off you go.
Players progress through each level by killing demons as quickly as possible and reaching the end point. But that’s just the premise. Neon White has an overarching story that players will slowly discover with each level they complete. It’s an engaging element to keep playing, and it felt like I was going through a season of a new series that I wanted to binge-watch.
New characters are introduced quickly, with punky Neon Yellow, crazy Neon Violet, and seductive Neon Red making up most of the main characters White interacts with. He is intrigued by how they know him so well, talking about past competitions and so on. This includes last year’s winner, an intimidating Neon Green. It’s the pull of all mystery, and I was completely intrigued as to where the rest of the game’s “missions” would take me.
While the story begins with an intriguing mystery about White’s past, his connection to other (literally) colorful characters, and a bonkers life-and-death competition, it eventually heads into a predictable story. That’s not to say I didn’t want to see what would happen in the end, but I was more involved in the gameplay elements rather than hearing how Violet keeps trying to blast Red – that’s a weird assassin-only relationship.
Neon White: Drama Cloud Nine
Enough said. You’re eventually taken to a central world of Central Heaven, where you can interact with characters, check your relationship status in your room (which I rarely did), and advance the story. Like a relationship sim, you can progress the stories of different characters by completing side quests and giving gifts.
You can get these gifts by revisiting levels and researching them. Most aren’t too hard to find, and once you’ve collected them, the level is immediately over. It’s purely beneficial for excelling at dealing with the characters you meet, making it a side step from your main focus. Take them or leave them, depending on how you want to play the game.
It’s clear that the game isn’t dependent on getting these gifts, as there are some voiceless dialogues between you and the character you’re giving gifts to. Yet I was inclined to do so. The characters can be two-dimensional if you don’t study their relationship with White, and it takes you deeper into the fun dialogue put together. For example, Neon Purple has some messed up logic about what’s considered cute: bunnies and sharp knives. It’s a weird trait, but something you’d want to delve into.
Not only that, but you also gain access to special side quests, providing more gameplay opportunities outside of the main gameplay loop rules in different locations. For example, Yellow’s side mission prohibits you from casting abilities, while Violet has a bunch of one-hit KO death traps. I was a fan of these missions, because not only did it bring a different angle to what you were taught – slaying demons as efficiently as possible – but also you could better understand your relationship with an old acquaintance.
Speaking of dialogue, it’s disgusting. In the right direction. You’ll hear the characters question the image of angels (some of them are cartoonish Garfield-like cats with sunglasses), only for those angels to retaliate saying “ugh, why can’t people- they don’t ask “hey, how’s your day going?” in place ? It’s light humor, and it fits the style of the game.
Neon White: Good luck, baby
The level design has been well thought out for on-the-fly speedrunners. I realized some paths I could take to reduce my time as I played. Neon White strives to know that I might jump to out-of-the-way platforms without following the obvious, compliant path, and it lets you know quickly that experimentation is the way you’ll get the best results (more at this topic later). With each card you get throughout a stage or after killing demons, you have the choice of shooting enemies or using it for parkour. Whether it’s a simple jump or shooting them with a bazooka, it’s up to you to make the right decision to reach the finish line the fastest.
Luckily, Neon White isn’t too hard on card-based mechanics. It is any card available in the level. Take an assault rifle? You can kill enemies with the card or discard it to use a Purifier Bomb to wipe out a block of enemies in one go. A gun ? Knock back enemies and leave some map energy to use for an extra jump. Does that make sense? No, but a lot of animated series concepts don’t either. Does it work without me blinking? Yes.
After all, this is primarily a speedrun game, so you can quickly replay a level by pressing F to instantly be taken back to the start of the level. I made more than enough mistakes with misplaced jumps or poor quality shots, so this came in handy more often than not.
You’re ranked Bronze to Ace, with the higher obviously being harder to come by, especially at later levels. The higher the score, the faster you gain ranks. Trying to reach Ace on each level is when I realized that each level in Neon White is more of a puzzle that you have to solve. It had me scratching my head a few times, and it’s satisfying to realize the different ways to take down demons with the Soul Cards you’re given. With each level you complete, you get hints on how to beat it faster and a ghost reading to rival your last time. It’s the same feature you’d see in racing games, but it’s put to good use here.
However, the unlockable clues make getting the ace a little too easy. These tips are displayed as icons that are sometimes hidden within a level. Once you spot it, you know where you need to go for a quick completion time. That means I didn’t need to experiment on my own if I wasn’t fast enough, and there was virtually no other path outside of the compliant route to shave any significant seconds off my time. While more experienced speedrunners are sure to find other off-trail methods, reaching Ace becomes more of a standard than a true feat.
There are lots of levels to complete and each mission offers new mechanics to keep you entertained. From new demon types like a mimic chest that explodes with projectiles to a rocket-launching Soul Card that can be used for rocket jumping or ziplining, each level is set up to keep you on your toes. I mostly reached Ace and grabbed the hidden gift on each level before continuing, but it made me realize that each level has a set formula that got repetitive.
Speaking of which, there are a few boss levels, but they play out just like any other time trial – just with the added element of lowering the boss’ health. I like how the devs incorporated this, as it changed the formula slightly from the usual grind.
I have to give the music a shout. One of Neon White’s most compelling elements is its soundtrack. His upbeat neon-funk tracks are great to listen to while kicking the demons out in a hurry. Each mission has a different pace, and while they can take a while to beat, I’ve never gotten tired of the drum and bass tunes that urge me to be faster.
Neon white: The essentials
Speedrunning and card-based gameplay isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and thankfully Neon White isn’t straying in that direction. It’s a unique concept that mixes platforming, puzzles, time trials, and interesting shooter mechanics in the form of simple maps, complete with an intriguing yet predictable anime-style story.
The levels are creative and can be beaten in less than a minute which makes the gameplay addictive. While the loop of achieving highlights and nabbing hidden goodies can get a little stale, the overall story, quirky cast of characters, and side quests keep things fresh. Plus, for a $25/£20 game, you’ll be getting plenty of Neon White.
If you’re a fan of anime concepts that immerse you in a world where angels are seen as hard-working cats, and want to try a unique puzzle-based FPS platformer that will have you using your brains to reaching a top spot on the charts, Neon White is the type of tea you’ll want to take a sip of.