This year we’ve seen a number of highs and lows. While these games dominate conversations, a number of interesting titles have arguably fallen through the cracks. Among them is Neon White, a quirky speedrunning FPS that was released on Steam and Nintendo Switch earlier this year. Some players have praised it, with much more are unsure of what it is beyond the game with the stylish masks. Now that it is available for PlayStation 4/5, a new group of players is able to experience it. Will it live up to the buzz, or is it rightfully forgotten?
Neon White starts with a pretty common premise. You’re a Neon, a dead person who was not good enough to go to heaven, so you have the opportunity to win god’s praise by defeating demons. Despite being simple, it’s the casual dialogue that really sells the experience. A lot of it reminds me of the aspects I enjoyed most from OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes!, a fact that makes sense given the writer, Ryann Shannon, worked on the show. The show creator, Ian Jones-Quartey, is also present as the voice of Neon Yellow, one of the main characters you’ll interact with.
Be it the main narrative, or optional events, each character has a lot of personalities, coupled with humor. It makes exploring every option fun, as most interactions are more character-based. You won’t miss massive plot points, at least at the start, with there being more suggestions as each of the characters go through their role. But, before you can fully experience the narrative, you need to complete levels and collect gifts.
The easiest way to explain Neon White is to say it’s more than the sum of its parts. While levels, enemies, and the overall concept are incredibly simple, it’s strong fundamentals and a good understanding of the balance that sell the experience.
This Looks Doable…
The core gameplay loop is pretty simple. Quickly kill demons, and then rush to the exit. Levels slowly add new weapons, mechanics, and enemies, forcing players to get creative. Sometimes you’ll want to use a gun, and then discard it for another jump, whereas other times it’s better to discard a card for a bomb, than it is to shoot multiple enemies. The trick is understanding what you need to do, followed by figuring out the best way to do it.
Every level is designed with an easy, and difficult way to do it. The easy path takes longer but is generally safer/offers more resources. The difficult way is often an optional path that bypasses some percent of the stage. Since this is a speedrunning game, figuring out these tricks is essential to getting a great time.
One thing players will like is everything is very progressive. Reaching the second highest rank for speed will unlock a hint, though it can be turned off, which shows another way to do the level. Typically there is a way to skip a lengthy section, making it a lot easier to the highest rank.
Good Balance in Difficulty
Going back to my comment about balance, Neon White hits the sweet spot of being challenging, but not too challenging. Hitting the highest rank will take some effort, along with multiple attempts, but is never so difficult it ruins the experience. For example, my best rank was getting 13.2 seconds on a stage with a 15-second limit. Despite being about 2 seconds under the limit, the fastest time shown on the PlayStation 5 version is 9.991 seconds. A five-second difference might not sound huge, though it means there is approximately a 30 percent margin of error. In practice, this might be a single mistake, but in most stages, I could get it within a couple of seconds of once I knew the correct method, which then came down to performing everything perfectly.
Another massive highlight is how quickly everything works on PlayStation 5. I could make an error, tap the touchpad, and start a new attempt in a second or two. Since failures are quickly turned into wins, the overall experience feels so much more satisfying.
Beyond rushing to the end, every level has gifts to find. These are used to unlock additional dialogue from characters, along with side quests, which are stages that specialize in a specific gimmick. Even if you don’t care about the optional stages, or dialogue, collecting them often requires a good understanding of the mechanics. Solutions often include moving around the stage in an unusual way, or creative use of your available resources. These can sometimes take longer than the speed run, making them fun to figure out.
The final nice touch is how intuitive the experience feels. It looks incredibly fast-paced, complicated, and really hard to perform, yet it really isn’t. Part of this is due to how levels are designed. Players are given a finite amount of resources, often suggesting there is a solution that utilizes all the resources. Sometimes the excessive amount is for mistakes or getting the collectible, but it’s all like a big puzzle that you need to solve. In addition to that, since most of the more complicated commands use the same input, everything is a lot easier to pull off than you might think.
Instead of having to memorize rush, grab, double jump, bomb, and so forth, you just need to know what the current card does, what you need, and keep pushing the same input. There is still a learning curve, one that increases as enemies become more complicated, but it makes this incredibly simple game look incredible.
Neon White Review Verdict
Neon White hits that sweet spot where it all just comes together perfectly. Not only does it feel incredibly satisfying, it never feels so difficult that you’ll want to give up. And, for those who really want a challenge, there is an online leaderboard that you can work towards conquering. Add in a good number of stages, plenty of delightful characters, plus an amusing narrative, and you have one of the best games to release this year.
[Editor’s Note: Neon White was reviewed for PlayStation 5, and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.]