Neon White review: Speedrunning the gauntlet - MrLiambi's blog


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Monday, 4 July 2022

Neon White review: Speedrunning the gauntlet

Speedrunning may not be a phenomenon too well-known outside of gaming circles, but the millions of views racked up on YouTube and Twitch - as well as huge annual initiatives like Games Done Quick - prove without question that people love watching experts blitz through games as fast as possible.

What happens if you try to bottle up some of that momentum and excitement and deliver it in the form of an indie Nintendo Switch game, though?

Well, the result is Neon White - a celestial world filled with short levels for users to tackle and try to uncover the most optimised path. 

Here's what it's like to speedrun through this unique title.

Welcome to hell

Neon White is actually the name of your player character, a young man who wakes up in heaven, masked up and given the identity "White".

He's a Neon now - a sinner who's been airlifted out of hell to clear demons in heaven.

Amnesia leaves you confused, but other Neons, like Red, Violet and Yellow, all seem to know you from your former, sinful life and drop hints that you worked or did jobs together, something you can explore over the game's course.

You're all competing to come out as the top scorer in a ten-day tourney that will earn the winner a year-long stay in heaven; the only way you're going to escape the clutches of hell. It's a simple premise, but what makes it fun to experience is the zany characters that are fighting for the top spot.

You've got the option to chat to all of Red, Violet, Yellow and some others to learn more about them and your former associations with them, all motivated transparently by collectable gifts you can find hidden in each level.

Each will help you uncover a bit more dialogue or a devilish sidequest level to complete, giving you something fun to do between your actual missions. The story being told is fun and quirky, but developer Angel Matrix has made a canny choice in adding a fast-forward button that whizzes through dialogue to get you back to the action.

It might seem a bit brutal, but this lets those who are into the gameplay loop get straight into things and allows you to pretty much ignore the story if you so choose - and player choice is rarely a bad thing, in our book.

Run and gun

When you go out on missions, Neon White kicks into gear and reveals its actual gameplay, and it's one of the more unique offerings we've tried this year.

You play with a first-person view, with high movement speed and fluid controls seeing you attempt to clear short levels (rarely as long as a minute in total) as quickly as you can, earning medals based on your speed.

As you run, you'll pick up cards that offer two options each - a firing mode that shoots bullets in various ways, and a discard option that jettisons the card but gives you a one-off ability like a boosted jump, missile or a ground-slam.

You have to defeat a certain number of enemies as you run through the level in order to unlock the finish line, and each, therefore, becomes a two-pronged puzzle.

First, you have to work out what you think the quickest route through the level is, taking the cards you can collect into account to find shortcuts and optimisations while remembering to blast the required enemies.

Then, there's the second part - actually executing the route by converting your sketched-out thoughts into action. Sometimes things will click and you'll nail a level first try, but others require more fiddly execution to get through.

In the back of your mind, you'll know that you could compromise and go slower to make things easier, but accepting a Bronze time and moving on is harder than you might think once you're into the swing of things.

The card system is a brilliant conceit that helps Neon White sink its claws into you, and each mission is composed of a series of short levels that vary the cards and enemies you face, so you get a ton of fixes in a row.

Each level also offers an additional quirk in the form of an optional present to collect for the other characters. This will often involve a completely different approach and path when you replay with it in mind - kind of like picking up the red coins in Mario titles.

City of heaven

Another thing that helps keep things fresh and zippy is that Neon White has a great sense of style and a look that's very unique. Its primary-coloured levels start off white and stark, but you'll experience other themes as you progress through the story.

In all cases, though, even in the darker and grimmer places you'll visit, the clarity of the visual language is maintained so that you know what enemy you're looking at from afar, or what card you're sprinting toward.

In terms of character visuals, the Neons all share an anime-infused aesthetic that you might love or hate depending on your taste, but the zany, offbeat tone of the game's dialogue is undeniably catchy once you start to engage with it.

Playing on the Nintendo Switch, things are reassuringly reliable on the frame-rate side of things, as well, since responsiveness is a huge factor in a game as quickfire as this. We'd guess that things can get even crisper on the PC.

A pulsing electronic soundtrack also keeps your heart rate high as you run through levels, looping endlessly to keep you cruising along without a drop in speed, easing up only when you chat to characters between missions.

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