Given how integral first-person shooter games have been to the gaming world, it’s a shock to see speedrunning games just now hitting mainstream audiences. Sure, we’ve had plenty of fast-paced FPS games make a name for themselves such as the original Quake and, more recently, the Ancient Gods DLCs for Doom Eternal, but more recent releases have seen more and more in that style. Given my love for this niche area of gaming, I was instantly entranced in the idea of Neon White, a speedrun-centric FPS featuring some high-profile voice talents and anime-infused flavor, the latter not traditionally being my forte. But does this act of divine intervention by the game’s developers live up to its promise? Find out in my review of Neon White!
Competing for Salvation
For the otherwise unenlightened, Neon White follows the story of White, a neon (queue your surprised faces) among hundreds of other demons given the chance to battle endless hordes of monsters. After 10 days of judgement, as they’re so-called, the best ranking neon will have their chance to stay in Heaven until the next competition. With difficult opponents, including Neon Green, the murderous reigning champion for several years running, White is in for a hell of a ride. That’s not even including his amnesia, leading to a yet unknown connection to those around him. Who was White in a previous life, and how do the neons around him know who he is? That’s for you to find out.
While the typical story of an amnesiac learning their way and taking on a big baddie doesn’t strike as original, it’s the anime-inspired tropes and writing style that make the experience fresh. I’m not a big fan of anime myself, as I tend to dislike the outlandish nature of most shows. Yet in anime’s defense, my tastes for films and TV tend to be very narrow, which stands in stark contrast to my gaming interests, yet I digress. The style works wonders here, lending itself perfectly to the over-the-top gameplay you can only find in a speedrunning FPS.
It’s enhanced by wonderful character writing as well. Each of the neons you encounter, alongside supporting characters in Heaven, feels much their own and likable in one way or another, depending on your tastes. Mikey, for example, who’s voiced by the incredible SungWon Cho, is hilarious and easy to love as your comedic relief/annoyed father figure persona, whereas someone like Neon Red has you feeling quite sympathetic due to her past (alongside being likable for…other reasons). Those are merely a few examples, yet the majority of the cast is written with a level of nuance that makes them quite memorable. I wasn’t a huge fan of Neon Violet’s personality, as many of her lines are rather cringe-worthy, but she’s still a character worth caring about for much of her backstory and personal feelings. That’s an achievement some games I’ve played have failed quite miserably at, so it’s a breath of fresh air to see it done well here.
For a story that I went into intrigued by but expecting very little, I was blown away by how Neon White’s narrative drew me in through my review. Other aspects of the game grasped me more, but it did more than I expected, making the game far better for it. I couldn’t imagine the game without a grumpy cat like Mikey by my side.
Blasting Demons, One Card at a Time
Similar to how other games lend themselves to the speedrunning aspect of things, Neon White takes a similar approach. You’re presented with a series of levels, in which you’re rewarded based on how fast you complete them with things like a ghost of your best time and a hint at a potential shortcut, among other level-specific rewards. Get a time at Gold or Ace, and you’ll make progress towards the eventual end game. This works great for most who signed up for it but often alienates the casual audience as having to score great times can be an experience of trial and error.
I’m happy that Neon White caters to both parties with a careful balance of challenge, options, and flow. Namely, this lies in requirements for progression, which thankfully remain low. Clocking in at nearly 100 total levels, you only need Gold or better on half the levels to complete the game. That doesn’t leave the speedrunning/completionist community in the dust either, as plenty of quality-of-life features are available to make getting great times that little bit easier. Hell, as someone who despises the painstaking practice of speedrunning too much to partake, I scored an ace on every level for this review because it was just that satisfying to do.
Another aspect that makes this easier is how the developers manage to keep levels fresh, which has the benefit of making the late-game remain as fun as your first few levels. Finding new routes to improve your time alone is satisfying and makes things quite replayable, but the constant stream of new mechanics keeps things interesting. Not only that, but the team at Angel Matrix does an incredible job of finding new ways to use the tools it presents in clever ways. It’s clear that the team saw this issue crop up in games similar to Neon White and wanted to put in that extra effort to ensure that wouldn’t happen here. I’d argue they succeeded beautifully.
Another aspect lies in the unique card system, which feels well thought out and gives plenty of variety to individual runs. As a basic rundown, each Soul Card (their name for the cards) you pick up can do one of two things. It can either fire whatever weapon it posts as an image on the card, or right-clicking can activate a movement ability. This could be a simple second jump, a dash, or many more complex things which I won’t divulge for spoilers. Not only is that great to add variety to particular runs, but it presents choices you have to make to score a great time. Is this card best used to take out a sniper foe up ahead, or could its movement ability get me out of the sniper’s sights before it becomes a problem? You have to ask this question a lot when playing, but rarely to the point of feeling excessive.
Yet all of this would mean nothing if it weren’t for the incredible level design. Taking hints from different architecture, both past and present, each of the game’s key areas feel distinct from one another and are beautiful to look at (I’ll elaborate further on that below). Not once in my review of Neon White did I feel that it got repetitive, as each level held its own identity despite dozens being under that same architectural style. It all weaves perfectly into the gameplay, creating emerging opportunities and more than enough chances to adapt and find new ways to tackle your main objective. Not every level stuck the landing in this aspect, though with nearly 100 levels, that’s not only near impossible but an achievement they managed to accomplish with as many as they did.
Rounding things off is a colossal amount of content, something rarely seen in titles like this. While you could do the bare minimum of what is required and be through the experience in around six hours or so, as with my review, Neon White could easily have you entranced for over a dozen hours or potentially more. It all depends on how willing you are to go for side objectives in each level, which can have the added benefit of opening dialogue, sidequests, or more through the other characters! That’s not even including a secret mode added after completing the game, but I’ll let you explore that one for yourself.
It’s abundantly clear from playing Neon White that the developers set out to achieve a unique, refreshing, and endlessly replaying speedrunning FPS that’d go down in the hearts of many. Not only have they achieved that colossal goal, but I’d go as far as to say they surpassed it.
Heaven in All Its Glory
We’ve been over this a bit already, so I won’t dawdle on, but I can say with certainty that the artists on Neon White have a wide variety of skillsets that played harmonically to create a living, breathing Heaven. The more 3D aspects of the experience especially, which hold a cartoonish look while still somehow feeling feasible at the same time. Each portion of the game feels distinct not just from a gameplay perspective but artistically as well, making it an eye-candy of sorts. Some 3D character models used for select scenes don’t look quite as polished when close as I’d like, but the silhouette at a distance feels unmistakable. That’s not even including the contrast between lighter environments and darker enemies, making your foes pop as you’re speeding through particular levels.
The 2D side of things looks just as great, with characters that appear almost as if they’re in a comic book of sorts. Plenty of expressions are driven out and serve to further deepen your connection. And of course, the models look so, so crisp. This is especially true of some of the non-human characters, such as Raz, Mikey, and Gabby, among others, who have plenty of personality injected into their facial expressions. While the story will be what connects you to individuals the most, the comic book aesthetic helps to sell those emotions during particularly emotional sequences.
Most surprisingly, where the game shines the most is in the soundtrack. While weapon sounds do enough to sell your power, Machine Girl, an electronic duo who makes their composing debut here, has come out of the gate swinging with two and half hours of fast-paced, heart-pounding tracks. Of course, some songs in my review of Neon White stood out more than others, but there wasn’t a moment playing Neon White where its music didn’t immediately pump me up. If you listen to nothing else, lend your ears to Thousand Pound Butterfly and tell me that wouldn’t be awesome to speedrun this game to. I hope to see more of Machine Girl’s talents in other games, as they’ve shown they’re more than capable of composing bombastic soundtracks that are great for speedy experiences such as this.
Neon White not only meets my colossal expectations, but surpasses them to bring a speedrunning FPS that feels exhilarating, satisfying, and a pure stream of fun. Housing a well-written narrative, beautiful visuals, an incredible soundtrack, and more gameplay mechanics than you can count, it solves so many issues with the genre in endlessly creative ways. It’s an achievement that, if it doesn’t land itself as my GOTY, will be extremely close. Whether you’re a seasoned speedrunner looking for a great place to test your skills or simply want to enjoy a fun, unique FPS experience with plenty of content, Neon White is a holy pleasure that’s instantly addictive and infinitely fresh.
- Great premise
- Unique use of over-the-top anime tropes
- Excellent voice work by top-tier talent
- Well-written characters
- Caters to casual and speedrunning crowds effectively
- Incredible level design keeps gameplay fresh
- Soul card mechanic poses plenty of gameplay decisions
- Hefty amount of content
- Great mix of 2D/3D art and animations
- Weapons sound beefy
- Amazing soundtrack work by Machine Girl
- Some lines are cringe-worthy
- Not every single level (out of 100) sticks the landing