Neon White Review (Switch)
Hmmmmm, I can do it faster.
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
If you told me that I would fall in love with a game that puts focus on speedrunning, I wouldn’t have believed you. Well, I wouldn’t have believed you if you said I would finally cross off my wish of being on a speedrunning leaderboard (without an embarrassingly long time of course), but here we are. I’m honestly not that big on speedrunning so while I loved Neon White’s aesthetics and the fast paced gameplay, I wasn’t too sure about the speedrunning focus. Will the game be gated by getting perfect time on every level? Will it make me feel terrible? Will I even like the game enough to keep playing or will it be in the pile of games I feel bad for buying because I ultimately didn’t like them? Well, I decided to go on and buy the game while I was already on the eshop buying two other games (which includes a certain badass witch). With a hope that I wouldn’t regret this decision, I dived right into Neon White as soon as it finished downloading.
Neon White has you in the shoes of an amnesiac guy nicknamed as White. After you emerge from what you later learn is the Glass Ocean, you look around to see a lot more people wearing masks around you, with a couple of them particularly standing out to you. White must have, and well did, know them when he was alive. Well anyway, you guys are now in Heaven, but not what you’d think. Everyone donning a mask, including White, are Neons, who are the worst of sinners, but the Believers have given you a chance at salvation. Over the next 10 days, called the Days of Judgment, you’ll be tasked with killing all the demons invading Heaven. Everyone is being ranked here, and the Neon that is ranked the highest will be able to stay in Heaven. Seems easy right?
While you are primarily gunning for the top spot, and well some might not really care about the story here, White does want to restore his memory. Those Neons he feels he knows already? Well, he does. There’s Yellow who is the classic bro, Violet the (I’m guessing) the youngest of the bunch that is a violent little girl who is also flirtatious (with some…lets say interesting turn ons), and Red who is more cautious and teasing, but her and White might have had some kind of relationship while alive. However, that’s not all, as there is also Green. Green has been the highest ranking Neon for years and well…Green absolutely hates your group, but especially White. White also ends up getting kinda close to the angels he is in contact with, Raz who totally doesn’t run a secret bar for Neons, Mickey who gives you your missions, and Gabby who is the receptionist (and I lowkey love her).
As the story goes on, the past for both before White, Red, Yellow, Violet, and Green died becomes clearer; as well as how Heaven got the way it is and why you only see the Believers running the shots. Wonder why the Angels (who are cute little cats here, yay) aren’t in charge? Oh boy, you’ll learn why.
Okay, but who really is going into Neon White mainly because of the story? The real essence of Neon White are the levels you’ll be playing through. With all 97 story levels divided into 12 Missions, you’ll be faced with many different levels where you have to kill all the demons and get to the end of the level as fast as you can. White starts with a Katana and, no offense white, but that’s pretty weak being only melee and all. Luckily, you get a variety of weapons in the form of cards (or Soul Cards) that will unlock as you progress. Each weapon represents a different gun type, so of course they all have different ammo types, amount, and range. You can only hang on to two different Soul Card types, for three each, but each (similar) card increases ammo (and there are also cards that are just to increase ammo or regen your health).
The Soul Cards aren’t just meant to be guns you shoot though, as they also factor into your movement. Each Soul Card, baring your Katana, have a discard ability to activate a special movement ability that will help you traverse the level and take shortcuts. For example, the pistol gives you an extra jump, the uzi gives you a ground pound, and the rifle gives you a forward dash. These cards make the game so fun as it’s so great quickly killing demons before you dash away to keep up your momentum. Each Mission introduces something new, whether it be a new demon type, a new weapon, or a challenging level layout that you have to steel yourself for some quick decisions which by that point, you’ll be expecting. And even if you take a second too long, the restart here is quick so you can get back to where you died (or would have died, if you’re like me and reset when you miss).
All of the levels are crafted really well, and it certainly helps with the aesthetic the game went for. The color palette is minimalist, with most of the color coming from aspects of the level that you yourself will be interacting with. Demons pop out from the buildings and background, even as it gets more colorful later on, as the basic demons are pitch black, with the later ones taking on colors of the cards they correspond with (and all but the red demons that auto-kill you after you’re in their line of sight), and even then they all are shaped differently so you can easily distinguish the basic ones from the balloon demons that you can jump on for extra height. Cards also pop out, along with the type of card, and combined with the level layout, you know almost right away what you need to do. Sometimes, it does trick you up, but your next try it won’t trip you up again. Not to mention that it is open to you finding shortcuts to shave off your time and you can even snipe demons from far away to save time from going through the basic path. The readability here is on point, especially for a game that has a focus on speedrunning.
You do need a certain Neon Rank to progress the story, but I don’t really think this is a problem. The Rank you need to get is pretty management in my opinion. Your Neon Rank rises with each Gold Medal and above you get and honestly, it’s practical to get the Ace Medals in the majority of these levels so you know it is for Gold. And I’m someone that is not usually into speedrunning and having to replay levels over and over. You might not get Gold first try, but you will your next (or next couple) as you know the layout and maybe even shortcuts already. You don’t even have to Gold Medal every level to progress too (I believe the highest you have to get to is Rank 35) and I do think the amount you have to go up is distributed pretty well throughout the 12 Mission sets.
It’s really hard to really explain, as it’s more of a feeling, but it’s such a rush going through the levels. Even when you’re purposefully trying to go slow when trying to map out a faster route (or trying to figure out where/how to get the gift). Even when you fail, you just have to pick back up and go again until you do it. It helps a lot that the majority of levels are at most a minute (basing off of the Ace Medals), with some being around two minutes, and only a couple going to or over three (which these are towards the end and typically for the boss fight or the lead up to it).
I also have to say how satisfying this game managed to be. Successfully completing a level is so satisfying and I guess I managed to squeak by into the intended audience as once I see my time compared to the Ace Medal time, I just have to dive right in. And as my time decreases, and I finally achieve the time needed for that sweet Ace Medal, I am satisfied. What’s even more satisfying is managing to get the Ace Medal on the first successful run. Neon White’s developers knew what they were doing to grab those in the target audience and never let them go until they at least complete the game.
Aside from getting the best time so you can at least get the Ace Medal (by the skin of your teeth), a Gift will appear after you complete the level for the first time. Most Gifts are pretty easy to at least find, as some Gifts can require some thinking and keeping certain cards to actually get to. Some are hard to find though, like you probably would have never found it (or figured out how to get there) if you didn’t look it up. Nonetheless, I didn’t have to look up where a Gift was for the majority of the levels, just be ready to look up the more obscure Gifts. Or give yourself a couple tries to find it before looking it up as I really wouldn’t spend hours looking for one.
Gifts are used to give to the corresponding Neon or Angel for the reward of getting a dialogue scene, a side quest from a Neon (basically another level, but is more skill based), a Memory which shows the Neons while they were alive and the event that caused their death, or a gift from an Angel (which will appear in White’s Room). The side quests are pretty different for each Neon, sporting their own little challenge. Red’s are focused on having you use the discard ability to your advantage, Violet’s are death traps that you have to try and escape, and Yellow’s disables your ability to discard your cards. Even if you end up hating the writing here, these side quests are 100% worth doing as they do get pretty crazy and challenging.
Other than that, based on your Insight level, which increases based on your Medal and you do get Insight points per successful run, you’ll be able to see your character’s ghost so you can tell if you’re ahead or falling behind of your best time, a hint hand that will hint at a shortcut, and access to the global leaderboards.
Honestly, I didn’t find the writing too bad and this may be because I’m used to it through the anime and shows I watched as a kid (or printed media that I read), though a lot of the horniness was a bit much (loved the cute flirting though). It also helps that all of the important dialogue are voiced, as it does add to the lines and I found the voice actors did a good job. Granted, that doesn’t mean the writing couldn’t have been better. I was pretty disappointed that the Dialogue sections of the character’s gift reward path were pretty much thrown in. I didn’t really feel I was getting to know that character more for doing something optional, most of them were just scenes meant to be funny, and I did feel some of the scenes (including the Heaven Ticket scenes) ended prematurely. Like there was a piece missing from the end and I was just left with “wait, I thought there was more?” Anyway, if you do find the writing not to your taste, or you’re here just for the gameplay cause who isn’t, the skip function is available right away.
I played Neon White on the Switch and I can safely say that I can recommend it if you either don’t have a powerful enough computer or just want the ability to play this anywhere. There was only one moment where it lagged a bit and that was at the beginning of the last level (and considering there is a lot going on there, I get it). The draw distance is pretty good here too, as you can see gifts (or well anything like demons or the hint hands) from far away. As long as it would be in your line of sight anyway, you’ll be able to see it. You won’t be as fast as you would be with a mouse, but the gyroscope aiming does help in this aspect (though I really wished there was a way to realign it). There are only a few moments where the character models are showcased and they are downgraded here (though mainly only White’s model on the mission completed screens), although I was disappointed that it looked like the artwork for the visual novel sections were as well. The loading is also pretty good, only taking a couple seconds to load to the next level and a second to do a restart.
There is quite a bit of replayability here. If you didn’t get all of the gifts or Ace Medals, you can go back to previous levels. Or you can just aim to get the best time you can, both in the story mission levels and the side quest levels, and maybe see if you can get the secret Dev Time Medals. Level Rush mode for everyone’s levels (including White’s which are basically all the mission levels) unlocks after you complete the game and after completing all the side quests for a character (so Yellow’s Rush won’t unlock until you do all of his side quests). There is a bit of spice here too, as there is a Heaven mode and a Hell Mode where you only have one life to do all the levels.
Neon White was a game I wanted to play ever since the first trailer was revealed, but the speedrunning aspect was what had me pause. The reception for the writing also had me pause, as I would like to know the story even if it’s not really the focus. Well, I’m really glad I decided to buy it after all. I fell in love with Neon White’s fast gameplay to the point where I played it every chance I could the following week, getting all Ace Medals and gifts in every level. I also didn’t find the writing too bad, though it definitely could have been better. I’d say if you’re interested in Neon White you should definitely pick it up. Even if you don’t normally pick up games that puts focus on speedrunning.