Neon White didn’t make much of an impression on me when I first heard about it. It’s a combination of things I’m pretty lukewarm on. It’s a first-person time trial game, a visual novel, and it has a card system. Doing just one of those things is hard enough, and the individual elements often aren’t of similar enough quality in the games that try to do very different things simultaneously. This time, however, absolutely everything has been knocked out of the park. Between the phenomenal level design, masterful gameplay, and engaging narrative, Neon White is easily a contender for game of the year. It’s one of those rare games that floored me from the first hour to the last.
The game puts you in control of a Neon named White. What’s a Neon? I’m so glad you asked. They’re the souls of the dead that have sinned. The Believers, the group in control of Heaven, summon a bunch of Neons every year to help clean up any demons that have found their way onto holy ground. The top ranking Neon gets to stay in Heaven for an entire year. Everyone else has to wait in the Glass Sea for the next time. The main story sequences are all fully voiced by a fantastic cast.
It’s up to you, as White, to eradicate demons and work your way up the rankings in order to be number one. But White has amnesia and seems to have a past with some of the other Neons around him. The story is awesome, even if the ending wasn’t everything I wanted. There are also a ton of optional conversations that aren’t voiced outside of specific bits. You’ll need to collect gifts in the levels to unlock these. On top of these often humorous sequences, you can unlock memories related to major characters, all of which are extremely informative and add a lot to the game’s intriguing backstory.
Gotta go fast
If you’ve played a time trial game before, you’ll be familiar with what to do in Neon White. You need to get from the start of the level to the end within a time limit, but the exit won’t open up unless you kill every demon. At least, for most of the levels. Levels usually come in sets of 10 as a part of missions. To unlock new missions, you have to talk to Mikey, an angel, with a rank that’s high enough to progress. You increase your rank by getting at least a gold medal per level. I got at least a gold in every level and got to the top rank, but that didn’t appear to actually do anything, which surprised me.
Playing levels and getting medals grants you insight for that level, which unlocks the gifts for you to find, as well as a hint for getting a faster time in the form of a collectible that leaves a trail. Finding gifts requires you to carefully search the levels, and getting them feels like a puzzle in and of itself, which is a treat. Plus you’ll unlock the level’s online leaderboard at max insight. It’s addicting to figure out how to make it through levels as quickly as possible, all the while trying not to make any mistakes.
I like the concept behind time trial games, I do, but the level design in most of them often isn’t good enough. Neon White easily has the best I’ve ever seen. The levels are expertly designed with absolutely incredible flow. The way the design pushes you forward and is tailored for synergy between cards is constantly awe-inspiring. The things Neon White asks you to do seem insane and massively difficult on paper, but they’re intuitive and come naturally in practice. I cannot overstate how impressive the work here is.
All the cards are on the table
Neon White has a strict set of rules for pickups. You can have two types of cards on your person at any time, and you can stack three of each kind. Almost every card has a main gun action and a discard action. The pistol card gives you a second jump in midair once discarded. The rifle card lets you dash forward, damaging enemies in your wake. The rocket launcher lets you shoot out a tether that you use to get around. The shooting felt perfect to me, and the satisfaction of stringing together accurate shots while moving quickly is second to none.
The enemies are just as on point. There’s a wide variety of demons to blast. Some of them are more like obstacles than enemies. Many shoot at you, requiring you to sidestep or jump over shots, and a lot of them drop specific cards that correlate with their own attacks. Enemies and cards are meticulously placed throughout the levels so that you use them one after another in rapid succession. For instance, a level might have the enemy that drops the aforementioned double jump card in front of you. You kill it, grab the card, use pistol shots to kill a rifle enemy, and then double jump to reach the ledge it’s on.
After that, you grab the rifle card it dropped and use it to dash into another rifle enemy, which will give you another card. Doing another dash might see you acquire a stomp card, which you’ll then use to slam yourself into the ground below. I can’t think of any other game that plays quite like Neon White. Almost every level is of high quality. There are hardly any levels I thought weren’t up to snuff. The game is a testament to creativity and attention to detail.
The long haul
Neon White isn’t short either. The game has 97 main levels as well as a bunch of side missions that each have their own specific inclinations. This adds up to about 120 missions. Getting at least a gold in every level, beating the game, finding every gift, doing every side quest, and reading every optional conversation took me about 23 hours. And it was all worth it. I can think of very few nitpicks as well. The second boss battle’s gold medal is too hard to get. It’s harder to get the gold in that one than the ace medal for the final boss, for instance.
There are also occasional instances that feel uncharacteristically sloppy or kind of unfair, but these are very uncommon occurrences. Simply put, Neon White is an incredible game that I’d recommend pretty much anyone play as long as they like first-person games, great stories, and fun. It’s the kind of game that’ll make you sad once you do everything. Luckily, those leaderboards are going to be tough nuts to crack.