Title: Neon White
Developer: Angel Matrix
Release Date: June 16, 2022
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
I’ll cut to the chase. Neon White is an extraordinary game that must have been insanely difficult to pitch. I mean, a time trial first-person platformer with deckbuilding and visual novel elements? No way would I ever think a game like this would exist. And yet, it does. What’s more surprising is that it works insanely well.
Neon White has players assume the role of Neon White, a dead man who supposedly lived a crime-filled life that he can’t remember. When we meet our anti-hero, he’s stuck between heaven and hell with a ticket to redemption at the cost of killing demons. The angels call upon these lost souls and dub them “Neons,” tasked with rising through the ranks and being the best demon slayer around, which will free them from hell.
White ends up running into a few notable characters who all have memories of him but decidedly keep him in the dark in the opening moments of the narrative. After that, however, the story is a significant highlight as dialogue contains an English dub for all the main story sections. Further, each character can be delivered gifts found in stages that will further their relationship and unveil more about White’s relationship with them.
Although there are many whacky moments, each character’s writing stays consistently fresh. There are a few “Oh, Sh*t” moments towards the end, which spans ten in-game days. However, the developer seems to know that the story won’t be for everyone, so there’s also a fast-forward button if you want to get straight to the action.
Neon White is a very fast game. Stages are short for the most part and are meant to be replayed for high scores and souls that increase the character rank, which unlocks the next in-game day. There are three rankings for stages based on the time that it takes to complete them: Gold, Silver, and Platinum. Getting through the level quickly will make ranking up faster, but completing the level normally also dishes out a few souls so you can still progress; it’ll just take longer.
Levels begin with the press of a button, and you’re off to navigate the stage while taking out every demon in your way. You’re armed with a sword to attack, but you’ll likely utilize convenient Soul Card weapons found around the map. Two card types can be held at once and feature an attack and sub-skill to get you through the stage.
Attacks are usually gun-related to shoot at enemies. There will also be a little trial and error as enemy types have varying HP, but there’s usually a quick way to take them all out. Sub-skills help with travel but will break the card upon use. These skills include double jump, dash, a hook shot, etc. Each day, more cards are introduced that test the player’s skill.
Levels become increasingly challenging, but not in the way where the developers make levels longer or fill them up with more enemies. Instead, the cards create a challenge as players must navigate the best ways to use them to get through the levels faster. It’s up to the player to match the speed these stages demand, which often caused me frustration as I fine-tuned my approach to shave off a second of my best time.
Other challenges arise as you gift your friends items found in stages. After a few gifts, you’ll unlock a side-mission that is almost like an endurance run through unique character stages. These aren’t timed but can be highly difficult. Nevertheless, these side-missions offered some of my favorite moments of gameplay, especially since the relationships between the characters advanced upon completion.
The rhythm of gameplay makes this a thrilling game for those looking to push their platforming skills to the test. However, remember that you’re meant to replay stages a lot. Gifts aren’t unlocked until you finish the stage once, which means you’ll always have to replay a level, but that’s not counting the times you’ll have to retry for a high score.
Still, additional features make this approach easier as bonuses include an in-game hint marker to show you the fastest way through and a ghost of your fastest time to show you if you need to restart quickly. On a controller, the controllers are mostly tied to the four shoulder buttons, allowing you to jump, use skills, and shoot. This took a lot of getting used to, but luckily, the first set of stages eases you into the control scheme.
Neon White is a vibrant game, but the level design leans more on the minimalistic side. I appreciated that the stages are kept basic, so you don’t get too distracted. Each day introduces a new theme with new obstacles, so as soon as you grow tired of one day’s gimmicks, you’ll likely be able to progress to the next day for a new set of stages.
I really enjoyed the illustrations during the dialogue. Each character is distinct, and there are plenty of CGs to highlight some of the more important story scenes. Unlockables are present to add additional levels of replayability, but everything seemed to unlock at a natural pace, and I never felt held back by a lack of skill. When it comes to the soundtrack, all I can really say is that it is awesome from beginning to end.
Neon White is a combination of genres that probably shouldn’t work, yet I had a fantastic time playing. Each stage tests your platforming skills, and new cards keep traversal fresh. The speed and level design are impeccable, but I couldn’t help but feel burnt out after multiple replays in some areas. Regardless, the character writing grounds you in this unique space and urges you to complete every optional mission to unlock everything this game offers.
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