I absolutely love it when a video game catches you off guard. Don’t get me wrong, I had decent expectations for Neon White following its initial Nintendo Direct debut, but I never expected it to be one of the best gaming experiences of 2022 I’ve had so far.
Once a year, heaven plays host to a competition that sees Neons (deceased sinners) yanked from hell as they compete to slay demons trying to overrun the outskirts, the winner promised a year’s stay in the supposed paradise. You take on the role of White, a mysterious character who unfortunately cannot remember anything about their life before winding up as a Neon. Weirder still is the fact other Neons remember White very well, the unknown of their connections gradually peeled away the further the story progresses. As cliché as the whole amnesia angle is by this point, I found Neon White’s tale to be an interesting one, the mystery intriguing and the characters entertaining to listen to.
Neon White’s gameplay is an interesting mix – part platformer, part shooter, part puzzler with an interesting card mechanic thrown in for good measure. Played across smaller bite-sized levels, each has an end goal you will be trying to reach, running, jumping and utilizing cards in order to do so. Before said goal unlocks however you’ll also need to take out every demon in your path. The movement of White feels smooth and fast as he darts about from platform to platform and despite playing from a first-person perspective, never did I find myself struggling to make precise jumps or movements.
What sets Neon White apart from other parkour-esque games is its card system. Dotted about levels these brightly coloured power-ups will provide White with weapons from pistols and machine guns to shotguns and sniper rifles. Of course, these will help in taking out demons on your travels, however, these cards also have one more trick up their sleeve – discarding. Discard a card and White will be able to perform a one-time ability. The aforementioned yellow pistol card for example can be used to fire off a limited number of bullets but when discarded offer White a brief double jump perfect for making ledges just out of reach. The SMG meanwhile sends White stomping to the ground eliminating any demons nearby. Every card is great fun to use and experiment with complimenting the platforming action perfectly.
The game does an exceptional job at introducing the player to its numerous cards, initial levels acting as tutorials of sorts before throwing you a few curveballs. The colour coding of the cards makes identifying what you have in your hand (of up to three cards of each type) easy to decipher and despite what may seem like an overwhelming number of actions and things to remember, never feels it. Within a few chapters, you’ll find yourself switching between cards oftentimes in the same manoeuvre such as setting yourself up for a quick double jump before discarding another card mid-air to dash forward onto a ledge. What’s particularly impressive about Neon White’s gameplay though is how nothing seems to slow the pacing down. Despite shooting guns at enemies and juggling cards to perform actions, with practice all of it can be done without so much as a pause and when that does happen you leave a level feeling like an absolute boss. When a video game rewards your efforts to this degree and as frequently as Neon White does it’s truly intoxicating.
Neon White is an excellent 10-hour campaign boasting a story and characters that are equal parts entertaining and exciting, however, reaching end credits is really only scratching the surface of this game. Every level has a collectable gift to find, tucked away in hard-to-reach places forcing you to make use of your cards and platforming skills in new and creative ways. When grabbed these can then be given to characters to further your rapport and unlock sidequests. Not only that but every level has four medals to earn awarded for faster and faster times (plus an extra fifth for those brave enough to take on the developer’s best times). Rise up the medal ranks and you’ll unlock helpful and fun extras like a ghost of your best time, a useful indicator showing where precious seconds may be saved on your run and best of all the leaderboards in which to compete with friends or others globally.
While some may find it irritating having to unlock features that most games would normally provide right out the gate, I found it refreshing, allowing me to focus on my performance alone before being rewarded for my Ace medal effort with the reveal of where I sat in the global leaderboard. Furthermore, the medals themselves never feel too far out of reach. Where other time trial-based games feel as though their top-tier medals belong to only the very elite, here the difficulty curve strikes the perfect balance between challenging but not seemingly impossible. Even if your first attempt on a level yields only a bronze medal, working your way upward is not only extremely satisfying but achievable without losing hours upon hours.
I spent many hours honing my skills on a small selection of levels knocking back and forth leading times with friends. There’s an addictive quality to wanting to scrape even a few milliseconds off your time just so you can gleefully see your name at the top of the table. Thanks to the game feeling… well just so damn fun and satisfying to play it’s so easy to get lost in a level. Where a few minutes suddenly turn into ten and that ten then becoming half hour.
There are those times you just know you’re onto something truly special, a game that when you aren’t playing, you’re thinking about playing. Wondering where your next session may lead or what the story might reveal. Neon White is one of said games, an experience that’s always exciting, often amusing and never a dull moment. Easily one of the best and most electrifying releases of 2022.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Annapurna Interactive