One of the sub-cultures of gaming that has interested me on an observational level, especially in recent years, has been speed-running. The act of going through a game as quickly as possible, looking for shortcuts and playing optimally, while something I cannot achieve personally has always interested me. In recent years, not having money for new games, I looked more at replaying old games in new ways, which is where I came across concepts such as challenge runs of certain games and speedrunning content through YouTubers and Streamers who have made engaging content for several years. I’m clearly not alone as we are at the point where some games are being sold in relation to speed-running. Neon White, a fusion of first-person shooting, platforming and card-based systems is one such example. Neon White was developed by Angel Matrix and published by Annapurna Interactive. So, does the game succeed in being ‘speed-running for freaks by freaks?‘
Neon White serves as an example of genre mashing which works way better than it sounds on paper. The game is a first-person shooter mixed with a puzzle platformer and uses a card system for the guns, limiting the amount of ammo to the number on the card, only allowing the player to hold two different cards at once. The puzzle platforming elements work surprisingly well with the first-person shooter genre due to how the cards are implemented, having the ability to discard them for extra movement options such as a double jump, dash or ground pound. You can also stockpile up to 3 of a single type of card which allows for some brilliant movement options in the later levels. This presents the player with some choices in how they approach certain levels, what weapon to use and whether to simply shoot the enemy or use the movement option that the card gives you to get to the end of the level faster. This also provides the opportunity to find hidden gifts in each stage which can be given to characters in the game’s hub world to get more insight into the characters or just have a funny moment. In some cases as well these hidden gifts will offer an opportunity to play a secret level where you must approach the game in a slightly different manner. This affords the game a variety of different ways to play instead of speed-running every scenario. I greatly appreciate this variety as someone who is not always aiming to simply be the best at any given game.
The emphasis on speed running from the game’s marketing wasn’t just to appeal to the hardcore speedrunning community. Instead, it incorporated navigating levels at a fast pace with general player progression and mastery. Each scenario has a medal system based on how quickly you get to the goal of each level, going from standard bronze to gold and extra scores such as the ace and secret red ace medals. With each rank of medal, you unlock more features, including hints as to a shortcut to complete the level faster, a shadow of your previous best time to see how you compare and at the ace medal seeing your position on both a worldwide and friend list-based leaderboard. Unlocking all these elements as you improve your time is a wonderful incentive as it allows for you to challenge yourself, your friends or even the world at large if you feel you’re good enough. If you really want to put your skills to the test you can unlock level rush modes later in the game where you can play all the secret levels or even a lot of the regular levels all in succession with one-timer going as you play. The level rush mode may also serve as a good alternative for a lot of the people that didn’t take too well to the story and writing.
Now if one thing about Neon White has fans divided is the writing and story, with some taking the speed running element to heart and skipping most of the game’s dialogue. The story features characters called Neons who are sinners who are sent to heaven to stop demons from entering from hell. The Neons that are fastest to stop the approaching demons are offered a year in ‘paradise’. Story-wise the game is nothing ground-breaking, but it serves its purpose and has one or two interesting ideas later when the Neons’ pasts become known to you. Where many have taken issue with the game’s writing is in the dialogue with Neon Yellow and Neon Violet especially boiling down to stereotypical roles of the frat boy’s best friend and the cutesy girl who’s actually a maniac respectively. While I personally found some ironic enjoyment in the dialogue, I completely understand people who want to skip it entirely and solely enjoy the gameplay.
In terms of aesthetics, Neon White is wonderful. The art style is very consistent, while not the most graphically impressive with environments that get more and more fascinating to move around as the game progresses. The locations have a good amount of variety from an endless lake with religious structures in it, to a Babylon gardens-esq hanging city to a more modern city where you navigate so high in the sky, you’re above the clouds. Away from the levels themselves the game mostly operates as a visual novel similar to RPGs such as Persona which admittedly feel like they slow the pace of the game down just a little bit.
The music of the game was also a clear selling point when trying to become a part of the flow of each level. The music is done by Machine Girl, an electronic music duo whose genre and music style fits the gameplay perfectly as you get faster and faster the music keeps up a fast pace or in the case of a few of the games boss fights can get very dramatic to add intensity to the situation. In terms of sound effects, the game also excels as each gun/card has its own sound effects which are satisfying (with the stomp card being a personal highlight). These card sound effects stacked with the sound of exploding barrels or breaking barriers in sequence in later levels make the catharsis of completing a level all the sweeter.
Despite some issues with the game’s narrative, Neon White was a unique experience. It offers you high adrenaline fun and fuels you to get better and better at the game until you feel like a badass assassin. The game is stylised and its world is well crafted enough that even once you stop to take in the sights and sounds you are still engrossed in the world of the game. I highly recommend this game to anyone interested in the idea of speed-running, as it may not make you a speed-runner, but it will make you feel the rush of beating your best times or others on the global leader board and it is a glorious rush for sure. Neon White is available on Steam and Nintendo Switch for around £18.40/€21.60 depending on which platform you purchase it on.
Neon White (Nintendo Switch): Despite some issues with the game’s narrative, Neon White was a unique experience. It offers you high adrenaline fun and fuels you to get better and better at the game until you feel like a badass assassin. The game is stylised and its world is well crafted enough that even once you stop to take in the sights and sounds you are still engrossed in the world of the game. – lewisdupe
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Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Angel Matrix
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive