Neon White review

Neon White is a first-person, speed-running, shooter-slash-melee game from Ben Esposito. It couldn’t be more different from Donut County, however, it’s grabbed the attention of the masses and is a likely top ten candidate for the game of the year discussions.

If you strip back all the layers of Neon White, it’s essentially a speed-running FPS game. I’ve heard the words deck builder thrown in there, but I don’t think it’s a deck builder, it’s more of an item collector. The idea is to get from A to B in the fastest time possible, killing the enemies that get in your way.

Our main protagonist is White, and it’s up to White to kill all the demons that have somehow made their way to heaven before Judgement Day. At this point, it’s worth noting the game is very anime. If you like this kind of thing, then you are going to love Neon White. Personally, I don’t think the story side of things is for me when it comes to the Neon White, but it’s there if you want to engage in it, and if not then it’s easily skippable.

Neon White does have a deep story, fleshed-out characters and some excellent writing. I can definitely appreciate the work that’s gone into this, however, it’s simply not for me. The gameplay is the hook for me, it’s fast, fluid, and feels great. Neon White gives me satisfaction from a gameplay perspective, but when it comes to the narrative I don’t really engage with it. These narrative pauses stop me from getting to the action as quickly as possible. While it’s not for me, it may be for you, and I think that’s fine. It reminds me of Hades, which had the combination of fantastic feeling gameplay and a compelling narrative, this has a similar winning combination.

The game is all about speed. The idea is to get from the start, navigate the course, the walls, and the enemies, and get to the finish line as quickly as you can. Along the way you can pick up Soul Cards, which give you access to a range of weapons and bonuses, which help you create a build to maximise your speed in getting to the finish line. For example, you can gather a card which will give you a weapon, which you can shoot to remove enemies from your path, or you can spend the card to do a dash across a gap, so there’s a risk/reward element to the power-ups.

The overall feel of the game is very, very good. I’ve been playing this on a combination of Steam Deck and PC, and it feels great in both modes. The motion in the game is great, although if you get sick from first-person games then this might be one to keep an eye on. Personally, I didn’t get that here with Neon White, but I have heard some players feeling that way. It’s also very balanced. It could quite easily veer into feeling overpowered due to the weapons and cards, but the development team have done a great job in balancing the game overall.

Paired with the great feeling of combat and motion is the level design. Neon White has some of the best level design we’ve seen in 2022, with deceptively simple levels at the start, moving slowly up through the gears of complexity as you make progress. Each level is a puzzle, which may appear to be straightforward and simple, but as you replay levels to get faster times, you’ll realise there are layers of complexity perhaps you didn’t notice the first time around. This is helped by the speed-running leaderboards, when you see them and you see other people’s times, you know there must be a shortcut you haven’t found yet.

Levels signpost where to go, but not in the most obvious ways with a big red arrow. The level design is very natural and the landscape will tell you where to go, and where the enemies are placed all giving you clues as to the most efficient route through a level. What the game doesn’t teach you are the secret paths through the levels, and the speedrunning tricks which will help you shave multiple seconds off your times.

Neon White is meant to be run through at pace. I had a little introduction to speed running with Super Mario Odyssey, I spent a little time speed running that game when it came out in 2017, and I was streaming on Twitch at the time. I didn’t have incredible times, I think my fastest time for speedrunning the whole game was about 1hr and 34mins, but you get to know your routes, your splits, plus you know when a run is done. Summer Games Done Quick is something worth checking out if you want to get into speedrunning, as it’s more than likely the game you love will have been the focus of a speed run at some point. Neon White is built for speedrunning, and it’s going to be great to see some pros get into this. The social aspect of Neon White is awesome too. You can see your friend’s times, which gives you huge motivation to beat them.

While the game is all action, and the gameplay for me is the main draw of the game, there is also a story too. There are three other Neons (beings tasked with killing Demons) alongside the protagonist Neon White. Unfortunately, White has lost his memories and has to get them back. This can be done by getting gifts in levels and giving them to the other Neons (Red, Yellow and Violet). These can lead to sidequests, where you have levels with specific challenges, cutscenes and also memories. The memories aren’t always happy affairs though, do be warned.

Neon White tackles a pretty hard-hitting subject; abuse. I am very lucky and don’t have a personal experience with this topic, and long may that continue. I do think it’s good that games can tackle these topics, and bring these difficult conversations to the forefront. Although I wasn’t personally engaged with the story, I do think it’s a positive side of gaming. Much like Celeste talked effectively about Mental Health, hopefully, Neon White can do the same here.

Neon White is a stand-out game for me in 2022. The gameplay mechanics are so fluid and smooth, plus they feel great. You can decide whether or not you want to engage in the narrative, either way, is fine, but there is no arguing that Neon White is one of the best games this year, so far, regarding pure fun gameplay. If you like first-person shooters, and you love a bit of speedrunning this is going to be a match made in heaven. If you haven’t tried speed running before, then I recommend trying this one out, it’s managed to get its hooks into a lot of people, and you could be next.

Developer: Angel Matrix, Ben Esposito
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, Steam Deck
Release Date: 16th June 2022