Being an assassin, and a good one at that, it’s a bit of a surprise waking up in heaven.
You may be dead, but you’re not there to put your feet up and enjoy the afterlife. Instead, you’ve been designated as a Neon, a sinner who may win entry to heaven should they emerge victorious in a game that lasts ten days. Basically, it’s the denizens of heaven’s way of cleaning out the demons that somehow infiltrate their paradise. Heaven gets cleaned out, and one sinner gets to escape hell. It’s a win-win situation, right? Well, as long as you emerge victorious.
Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it – for you, your competitors are all people you know. Although you’re a bit hazy on the details as you’re suffering from amnesia. That old chestnut. And with everyone given codenames – you’re Neon White, and there’s also Neon Red, Neon Yellow and Neon Violet, for example – things are kept even more ambiguous. They mostly seem to like you though. Or are they just putting on an act to put themselves ahead in the game?
In any case, the story that unfolds in Neon White covers the whole spectrum. It’s mostly light-hearted, with some effective comedy at times and plenty of pop culture references. But it’s also not afraid to get a bit serious here and there, with characters becoming reflective and philosophical. But as enjoyable as the story may be, chances are you’ll be buying it for its rewarding fast-paced action.
Essentially a level-based first-person shooter, Neon White challenges players to to think and act fast. White himself starts every level with just his trusty samurai sword, which can be swung to inflict damage on enemies and open chests. Other weapons, such as pistols and assault rifles, have to be acquired on the way to a level’s endpoint, which only becomes accessible once all enemies have been defeated. The twist is that each weapon you pick up also has a secondary ability that generally has to be used to reach said endpoint.
In-game, these weapons appear as cards, and you can only pick up two of them to complement your sword. You can pick up multiples of the same card, however, up to three in fact, which is handy considering that triggering a secondary ability forces you to discard a card. Cards include Elevate, which provides you with a pistol, but can also be used to provide an additional jump while in the air. Then there’s Purity, an assault rifle with a discard ability that creates an explosive blast. Get caught in the blast and it will catapult you upwards. The key is, then, to collect and use cards effectively.
Factor in in other gameplay elements, like being able to bounce in certain balloon-like enemies to cover gaps and reach higher ground, and it’s clear that Neon White provides quite a unique experience. It’s a captivating one as well, though it’s those who are fond of speedrunning that will get the most out of it. In fact, speedrunning is essential here. Levels are bite-sized, and upon reaching the endpoint you’ll be graded according to how fast you reached it. Intriguingly, the better you perform, the more incentive you’re given to improve your time, too.
After completing a level, a gift can be found by replaying it, for example, which can then be given in the game’s hub for a reward. Your ghost also becomes available if you perform well enough, giving you a visible marker to beat. Even better, beat the Ace time on any level and a global leaderboard opens up, challenging you to compete for the top spot.
While speedrunning is somewhat at the heart of Neon White, then, it’s a shame that simply making your way through its story requires a good number of Gold awards to be obtained. That is to say that each batch of levels, collected into a single mission, require you to have a certain Neon rank to access them. And that can only be lowered by obtaining Gold or Ace medals. So, earning a Bronze or Silver medal might allow you to progress to the next level, but unless you’re getting plenty of Gold or better medals along the way, you’re forced to replay missions and improve your skills.
As long as players know what they’re getting into With Neon White, chances are they’ll have a brilliant time. It’s got a clean visual style, a brilliant soundtrack, and gameplay that’s challenging but moreish. Add in a story that will keep you interested in uncovering the fate of Neon White and his acquaintances, and you have one of the most interesting releases of the year so far.