What is it? A stylish speedrunning shooter that's soaked in early early-2000s vibes.
Expect to pay: $24.99/£19.99
Release date: June 16
Developer: Angel Matrix
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Reviewed on: Nvidia RTX 2070, 16GB RAM, AMD Ryzen 5 3600
Multiplayer? Online leaderboards
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)
In the moment, Neon White is bliss. A heavenly dance as you cut demons apart across heavenly docks, Sega-blue skies raining blistering summer light on your pristine battlefield. As you first-person platform your way across each stage, you're not just shaving limbs off of demons, but seconds off your time, repeating each level until it is perfect—or, at least, until you can knock (occasional PC Gamer contributor) Fūnk-é Joseph down a spot on the leaderboards.
But then the mission ends, and a rabble of horny anime goth kids reminds you that this isn't heaven. It's hell. But depending on your tastes, eternal damnation might not even be that bad.
You are White, and you are dead, and you're meant to be going straight to hell. Luckily, heaven's given you a second chance as a Neon, sinners plucked from damnation to do God's dirty work—namely, clearing the bleach-white streets of paradise of a nasty demon infestation. After 10 days, the most efficient demon-killer is promised a second chance at salvation.
Over the course of your induction day, you're taught the basics of being a Neon. Every day (or mission) is split into a number of stages—blisteringly short FPS platforming puzzles that task you with not only clearing them of demonic baddies, but doing so as quickly as possible. In short, it's Quake meets Mirror's Edge meets Trackmania.
Neon White's trick is that instead of rocking up to heaven's door with an arsenal of guns, weapons are instead framed as colour-coded cards dotting the level. Each has a certain amount of shots that can be fired before being discarded, and any new card you pick up will immediately go to the top of your deck.
Crucially, on top of acting as weapons, each can also be spent to activate a mobility tool. Pistols give you a second jump; SMGs let you ground pound; shotguns give you a burst of speed in any direction, while marksman rifles let you travel in a further dash horizontally.
It's not just cards, too—the environment and its demonic denizens play a part in building up and mastering speed. Many demons are colour-coded themselves, meaning you'll acquire a card for slaying them, letting you chain up combos. Balloon demons can be popped by jumping on them for extra bounce, while doors will force you to spend an ability to break them (unless, of course, you find a cheeky way around them).
Mastering a stage, then, means figuring out the most efficient path through a level, juggling cards to both kill demons and traverse the map as quickly as possible. There's usually an obvious path that'll score you at least a gold medal for clearing it quickly, but if you wanna Ace a stage, you're gonna have to get creative, using the Assault Rifle's grenade secondary to rocket jump around entire buildings.
Neon White is a game that wants you to obsess over your times in each stage, and figure out ways to cut them even closer. Cleverly, you're not shown leaderboards when you enter a stage—those are unlocked by earning medals, alongside ghosts and shortcut hints to help you optimise your routes. You can, and probably will, spend up to an hour throwing yourself against a single stage just to teach IGN's Mat Jones (opens in new tab) a lesson.
When I started playing Neon White, I kinda rubbed against the simplicity of it. I'm someone who adores Mirror's Edge and Apex, after all—games where good movement takes time to learn, where there are countless tiny mechanics covered in friction points that take real time and effort to master. In comparison, Neon White is simple and floaty, and I worried that simply routing cards wouldn't be enough to keep me around.
But watching the community put Neon White through the ringer (opens in new tab) has completely changed my tune on it. Those cards are versatile enough that players are cutting across entire stages in a single bound, avoiding routes you'd think mandatory and taking precision pot-shots at demons half a mile away. The only thing missing is a good replay feature—when someone's posting a time a full 30 seconds shorter than my PB, I wanna see how the hell they managed it.
I haven't, however, been able to come around on Neon White's vibes. Before this review takes a turn, however, I do want to note that the game's UI and environments are peak aesthetic.
Neon White's entire look can be best described as Dreamcast-as-fuck. Sega-blue skies shine on crystal oceans, with vaporwave marble towers, courtyards and fountains acting as your battlefield. The HUD is dripping with flavour text and tiny decorative details, and between-mission menus are crowded with rounded square buttons and delightful illustrated backdrops. Combined with a suitably Y2K trance soundtrack by Machine Girl, Neon White is what the kids would call an entire vibe.
It's just, man. I can't stand listening to anyone in this world talk. Your first day introduces you to your fellow Neons, who all fill your standard anime archetypes. Yellow is your dudebro bestie; Violet the oh-so-innocent flirt; Red the tall, bossy, "step on me mommy" femme fatale. Player character White is basically a goth Spike Spiegel, which tracks with him being voiced by Cowboy Bebop actor Steve Blum.
Neon White is a game for people who love early-2000s Toonami-core nonsense. It's a game for people who didn't check out of Death Note after two episodes and exclusively shopped at Hot Topic. Everyone is clad in too many belts and tight leather corsets (even the dudes - hell, especially the dudes), and your heavenly contacts take the form of achingly cute chibi cats.
Every so often a stage will be interrupted by short visual novel segments between you and another Neon. But the bulk of the storytelling takes place between missions, where you can explore your little slice of heaven—White's room, the local bar, your boss's office. Gifts found in stages can be offered to NPCs, while consistently getting high medals will let you unlock short heavenly delight scenes, which might have you getting ice cream with another Neon or watching The Matrix with a flying cat.
Look, right. I'm not making a judgement on folks who enjoy this stuff. Neon White is earnest, unashamed cringe, and if brooding anime boys are your jam, I reckon Neon White could well be your next favourite game. The writing is crammed with references and nods to era-appropriate anime that you'll either get or miss completely. I am simply just not the audience for this stuff, even as the game pushes beyond thirsty spirits to start unravelling a tale of theological intrigue (why can't God in all his power just poof these demons away, anyway?).
The moment my character started arguing that his dick sweat was just as troublesome as another character's boob sweat, I was done. The fast-forward button stayed on from then on out.
If you can ignore (or better yet, embrace) the cringe, however, Neon White is still a blisteringly stylish speedrunning platformer. It is the kind of game I could easily imagine sinking hours into just to get myself into the top 10 of a single track, though from the looks of the leaderboards I reckon I'm a long way off yet. With over 100 stages at least, there's enough food to keep a hungry speedrunner content for months, maybe years.
It's the kind of game where I desperately hope the developer adds a level editor somewhere down the line. Because with a fairly standardised set of structures, demons, map elements and weapon placement, Neon White's potential could be limitless. What does a Kaizo take on this heavenly speedrunning challenge look like? I'd sure love to find out!
Neon White is unashamedly a videogame-ass videogame. It's a game for @'ing your friends on Twitter to let them know you knocked a second off their time, a game that asks you to crank up the soundtrack and give that last stage just one more go to snag that ace medal.
Just don't feel bad if you need to mute the dialogue. Hell, I'm right there with you.