Genres: First Person Shooter, Platformer
Platforms: PC, Switch
Developer: Angel Matrix
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Neon White is a first-person platformer / shooter hybrid. It has you navigate through levels with the goal being to defeat every enemy and reach the goal as fast as possible. It's simple, but paced excellently wherein there's constantly new ideas being added into the mix. It's a game that will make you feel like you rule at videogames, even if like me, you don't really. It's also surely a low-key highlight of this year for gaming.
The core gameplay here sees you picking up cards,each of which representing both a different gun and a secondary use. Left click on the mouse uses the gun like you'd expect, but right clicking discards the gun, but provides an often morte essential secondary feature. As an example, the handgun can be discarded to launch you into the air acting as a double jump or the assault rifle will shoot a mine, which destroys walls, large groups of enemies or can be used to propel you even further across gaps.
So quick thinking is the name of the game, where good accuracy for landing your jumps and taking out the enemies is key. Enemies don't stand much challenge but are instead pieces of a puzzle that has you choose between eliminating quickly or using them to reach the next step of the level. It's very fast and intense, but thankfully very readable for the player. It's paced so well and features an impeccable difficulty curve wherein the game never feels unfair and challenging levels will likely not leave you retrying too much before you master them.
It's very easy to cruise through the game, but it offers boundless replay value as you're encouraged to get better times. You'll unlock a leaderboard showing that while you think you may have smoked through a level perfectly, someone's done it 30 seconds faster. Every level has tricks and shortcuts and generally the game embraces the spirit of speedrunning in an accessible and fun way. I was often surprised by how many little details and different tactics you could use to blast through a single short level. For a change of pace, each level also has a hidden gift which are used to unlock optional dialogue related to the plot and characters, these are found by breaking away from the core of the game and exploring each level, which often works as a good way to take in the game's aesthetics in between speedy platforming.
Neon White doesn't demand perfection but heavily rewards you for thinking outside of the box. Gameplay-wise it pretty much achieves everything it's trying to do. Though it's worth noting that this has a visual novel attached, which also works to offer something to cool down in-between levels, but it absolutely won't be for everyone.
There is a plot to Neon White and it's quite meaty, though it will absolutely be a turn-off for most people. You could remove all the elements of plot and leave the game as an arcade experience, but each sequence of levels is succeeded by a visual novel chapter. It's very reminiscent of Japanese visual novel hybrid games like the Persona series and especially the mystery series Danganronpa which this especially feels indebted to given its very similar premise of 'amnesiac characters placed into a life and death game'.
Its script is pretty meaty, mostly voice-acted and backed up through optional text only character development dialogue. There's some prestige voice-actors attached to play the lead roles, like Steve Blum (voice of Spike in Cowboy Bebop). However, the script doesn't hold up despite the voice cast given it their best go. While it's obviously intentionally cheesy, drawing comparison to anime and old videogame's from the '90s and early '00s, it's still often very straight faced and any instance of romance feels childish and sometimes even cringe-worthy. Sometimes it's almost fun how ridiculously written it is, but the transition from straight-faced to silly doesn't always land.
Aesthetically the game looks authentically like a polished up game that might've landed on the Dreamcast or PS2 in 1999-2002. Its character portraits are well done and the simple graphics end up a plus as it keeps the game focused and uses visual cues and colours to guide you through the levels, focusing in on your performance.
One of the reason that initially put me on to this game was an original soundtrack by one of my favourite music artists: Machine Girl. While a lot of their stuff leans towards digital hardcore, they clearly have a good ear for classic videogame inspired sounds. This soundtrack feels authentically Dreamcast era, with bright synths, breakbeats and esoteric vocal samples that are chopped up. It's a perfect soundtrack and a good new Machine Girl album at the same time. Really ties in well with the general aesthetics of the game.
As a whole package, Neon White offers some of the cleanest movement shooter gameplay available, distilled down to a speedrun friendly core. While the attached visual novel will not be the hardest to stomach for everyone, the arcade gameplay and authentic early '00s aesthetics makes it a blast to experience. At £19.99 and coming in at 10 hours to finish the game, though offering lots of replay value and an entire visual novel to experience (even if it's the weakest part of the game), it's worth the price of admission.
Gameplay is fast, fun and rewarding
Paced very well and has a perfect difficulty curve
Machine Girl soundtrack rocks
What's not so good!
Visual novel parts are not the best written
Visual novel is not optional