When visualizing "Heaven," this ethereal realm of the afterlife comes in many different shapes and forms. It depends on the person, but some see it as a land full of clouds, cherubs, and pearly gates. Others might think of it only as a peaceful nothingness. My Heaven, though? Well, no better place to look than Neon White.
In Neon White, you play as a sinner (named White) given the chance to spend some highly-sought time in Heaven, where a group of angelic beings called The Believers live and reside. You're tasked with cleaning up Heaven of the filth that's spilled through -- demons, that is -- and to do it fast and loud. If Heaven is considered paradise, a place where we can be free from suffering and live out our afterlife, an afterlife full of fun and joy... well, I daresay Neon White is my heaven, because this game is divine.
Neon White's Need for Speed
Neon White is such an interesting game to dissect and describe. It's an amalgamation of genres that just happen to be the recipe for an incredible game. It's part first-person shooter, but it doesn't show guns in the hands of the player; it's a 3D platformer, but not in the way that Mario 64 or Crash Bandicoot is; likewise, it's a puzzle game but not every solution has one set answer. Oh, and it's a card game, but the feature isn't just to bank on some fad.
White's objective is to go through various districts in heaven and clean them of demons -- that's always the main objective -- but with a timer counting how long it takes to complete each level as well as a medal system, you're urged to go as fast as possible to complete these levels. Your tools of the trade are cards found throughout levels that act as guns. You can use these to shoot at demons and take them out. You're allowed up to two different types of guns and you can hold three of each. While these guns do have ammo, more often than not you'll discard them before you empty the clip. That's because of an ingenious mechanic in which discarding specific cards has a unique effect.
You see, cards don't just kill demons, but they alter the way in which you move. Godspeed, for example, which acts as a sort of sniper rifle with pinpoint aim, is discarded to have players zip forward at incredibly high speeds, which also takes out enemies and barricades in your path. The pistol, called Elevate, is discarded to give players a double jump to reach high areas. The brilliance of Neon White's design is when you find the right solution to solving a stage as fast as possible by knowing when to shoot, when to discard, and find ways to game the system.
I'll be honest, there's always some skepticism towards card mechanics. After the popularity of games such as Slay the Spire, cards were "in." A common pitfall many developers fall into is convoluted usage of card systems, but Neon White's implementation of this feature is simple and easy-to-understand. Cards are integral to the way Neon White plays. In quick, split-second sequences you're required to know what cards are in your hand so you can either shoot or discard in order to get a faster score. Going back to a level and changing how you used the hand you were given makes for some enjoyable experimentation and could radically change your speedrun record.
As Neon White emphasizes and urges players to go fast and complete a level as fast as possible, it's great that developer Angel Matrix created dozens of brief but adrenaline-fueled stages. As you progress in Neon White, you'll hop from level to level with various story segments in between. Levels usually come 10 at a time, and the theme of these can vary depending on where they take place in Heaven. Neon White brilliantly incorporates new demons, cards, and obstacles at a natural and very reasonable pace, so you never feel overwhelmed by new inclusions. It acclimates players to using new cards that can drastically impact how they approach obstacles. And with the new obstacles and enemies, no span of levels ever feels quite the same, so there's never a moment of monotony.
Of the various levels and challenges you'll face in Neon White, I'd say the true potential shines through in the latter half of the game when more tools are at your disposal. The RPG, called Dominion, allows you to rocket jump or, by discarding it, use a grappling hook to reach far-off areas. Rocket jumping is one of my favorite features in FPS games, be it in Team Fortress 2 or Quake, so Dominion makes navigating obstacles and getting to the finish so invigorating. Using Dominion's grappling hook is equally fun, propelling you forward at such high speeds that it literally makes me lean so close to the screen to get a feel of the same sick air that White is.
If you're like me, you'll be on the edge of your seat most of the time in Neon White, because it creates such elation to move through the air and get a new speedrun record. I should note, Neon White controls insanely smooth, so even when you're being propelled at high speeds due to your cards, there's an impressive amount of control over how you move.
Neon White is not a one-trick pony when it comes to level design. After each bundle of missions, you'll be brought to a hub area that offers a moment to breathe a bit and enjoy the story's progress without interruption. You're able to grant gifts -- collectibles found throughout various levels -- to characters in order to increase their relationship level with you. This activity shouldn't be ignored, because you're actually missing out on a lot of the story, but more importantly, some of Neon White's greatest missions.
Called side quests, these are periodically unlocked and allow you to play through levels that subvert your expectations of what a Neon White level can truly be. Violet, a sadistic and violent sociopath, has side-quests that resemble something from I Wanna Be the Guy, with hundreds upon hundreds of spikes as hazards requiring accuracy and timing to avoid. Yellow's side-quests, on the other hand, forbid you from discarding. You feel weirdly naked not being able to double-jump and speed across obstacles, so you have to rely on bullets and platforming skill alone. You can truly appreciate the level design so much more once you see the creative ways Neon White's gameplay mechanics are used both in side-quests and in the main game.
Putting the Pieces Together in Neon White
Both in its gameplay and through its narrative, Neon White gripped me tight and didn't let go until I finished. The quirky cast of characters in Neon White are ones you either love or love to hate, from the bro-tastic Yellow to the sadistic Violet. Each character is brought to life through excellent voice acting with some of the industry's greats. I'm talking Steve Blum, who is a veteran among veterans; he's known for his role as Spike in Cowboy Bebop with his deep cool-guy voice, but to single his impressive filmography down to a single role doesn't quite do him justice. Nonetheless, Steve Blum, like in all his roles, brought his A-game and kills it as the goofy amnesiac White.
It's the voice acting that truly convinces me that these characters are people I should love or hate, root for or root against. Neon White's villain, Green, is a truly fearsome character whose intimidating presence is emphasized through the gruff and almost primal performance from Ben Lepley. Lepley is no stranger to voice acting or to ultra-masculine roles -- one look at his character Dedue in Fire Emblem: Three Houses and you'll know the type he plays. The leading women of Neon White are also absolutely fantastic at what they do, with Alicyn Packard's hypnotic performance for Red and Courtney Lyn's sadistic and intentionally immature take on Violet breathing so much life into their characters to levels other games can't achieve.
Because White has a case of memory loss, the truth behind White and the Neons, is gradually revealed bit by bit over a course of the game. Their intertangled pasts are filled with serious and even heartfelt moments, although the main narrative usually maintains a pretty goofy tone throughout. The humor is often quite, well, humorous as it so happens. Much of the humor is based on meme culture today, while the outright quirkiness of several characters like Yellow or the angel Mikey make for some good fun. There are a few cringey jokes that try too hard and rely on meme knowledge, but it doesn't get in the way of Neon White's more important moments.
Lumped in with the outstanding vocal performances and typically good writing is a visual and auditory treat. Neon White has a retro feel, almost vaporwave in its aesthetic. Heaven is a pretty sick-looking place, no doubt about it. Filled with pristine white buildings and neon skyscrapers, all I can think of is how chill this game looks. There's a scanline filter over the screen that's subtle but creates an effective and convincing look of vaporwave -- retro, even. It's not quite retro in its appearance, but you'll probably get some nostalgic vibes from Neon White. Composing the soundtrack for Neon White is Machine Girl, which I hadn't heard of until now but is supposedly quite notable. It's an electronic soundtrack that I could, and did, listen to for hours most certainly helped me go faster than I thought I could in Neon White's levels.
Neon White Review | Final Thoughts
Neon White is a game I could easily set down and call after a single playthrough, but I want more. While I'm going to hope and pray we get DLC or level packs (please, give me something more, Angel Matrix!), you do have a well-paced and outstanding package in Neon White. There are dozens upon dozens of collectibles to find and even more, I won't elaborate on so as not to spoil any surprises, but do yourself a favor and get this game if you have even a tiny speck of interest. Neon White is just about as flawless and fun and exciting and... Well, you get the point. See you on the leaderboards, folks.
TechRaptor reviewed Neon White on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Nintendo Switch.
- Speedy, Satisfying Shooting and Platforming
- Creative Use of Card Mechanics
- Excellent Voice Acting
- Nostalgic Graphical Style
- Some Cringy Dialogue