Neon White review – heaven in 60 seconds

The maker of Donut County presents a stylish hybrid of first person shooter and platformer, where weapons and movement are tied to cards.

As speedrunning has begun to receive a larger spotlight, through events like Games Done Quick, more games have tried to cater themselves towards the art of sprinting through levels as fast as possible. The likes of Ghostrunner, Superhot, and Demon Turf, along with high difficulty death dances like Cuphead, have all been designed to deliver the satisfying spectacle of the perfect run.

As noted by Donut County developer Ben Esposito himself, Neon White was inspired by his fascination with speedrunners – and it shows from the get-go. Each of the opening 10 stages is a confined sprint to the finish, as you leap across platforms and shoot enemies, and it’s all over within 60 seconds even at a slow pace. The crux of Neon White isn’t beating a level but working out the best routes for shaving off precious seconds for better medals, rewards, and the thrill of the execution.

This struggle for perfection ties in with the story. You play as an assassin from Hell called White, who is handpicked to compete against other demon slayers (who are all forced to wear animal masks) for a chance to live permanently in Heaven. Your progress through the competition is tied to a Neon ranking, which only increases when you earn gold medals or higher. This makes repeat runs through levels mandatory, requiring you to execute time-saving tricks or discover shortcuts which are easily overlooked on a first attempt.

Both your movement and attacks are tied to cards scattered within each level. Along with a sword that’s always in your arsenal, you pick up cards which represent other weapons like pistols, machineguns, and rifles, which can be used to either shoot enemies or use an alternate special ability that can only be activated when the card is discarded. The pistol, for example, grants an extra jump when discarded, while the machinegun throws out a Metroid-style bomb to either destroy clusters of enemies or propel yourself to higher platforms. Or, if you’re smart, both.

Neon White does an excellent job of easing players into its card switching and ditching rhythm. At the outset, you’ll only have to juggle the capabilities of a few, as you hop between shooting, dashing, and jumping off demons to work out the optimum route with the moves at your disposal. It’s easy to paint yourself into a corner, whether from firing too many bullets – so you lose a card that’s needed to move forward – or misjudging a jump, but the levels are bitesize enough, and so satisfying to blast through, that restarts feel like a learning tool rather than a punishment.

Any potential frustration over the repetition is dodged through smart rewards that incentivise repeat runs. After you beat a level, you earn ‘Insight’ into that stage – which unlocks the time requirements for better medals, ghost AI players who show faster routes, and the chance to find hidden collectables which progress side character stories and unlock secret side quests. These levels are some of the most devious, from a jumping assault course through spiked arenas to stages which strip away moves entirely.

As the levels become more elaborate, with one-hit kill enemies, bosses, and platforming gauntlets which demand a fluid precision sprint, Neon White becomes a sublime rush. Gold medals might be needed to progress, but you’ll want to tighten up your times simply for the thrill – especially as you notice spots where you can cut corners or execute a cleaner way to wipe out a cluster of enemies. You’re always reading the environment for the smoothest way through, while working out the perfect sequence to use your available abilities and weapons.

This dance through Heaven is just as satisfying to watch. While the levels themselves are aesthetically minimal, the vibrant attack effects, anime-style characters and flashy overlays showing your cards makes everything feel snappy and visually rich. It’s all nicely balanced too, where it never becomes a distraction – even as you swap and drop cards at breakneck speed.

Like most things this stylish, Neon White disappoints whenever it decides to talk. Levels are punctuated with text exchanges between White and other characters, all voiced by a cast you might recognise from anime shows, like Cowboy Bebop’s Steve Blum.

The tone and dialogue, however, feels pulled from the worst anime tropes, with a cringeworthy, awkward script that’s neither smart or funny enough to hit the knowing, self-aware shtick it’s going for. It might be a personal preference (and these scenes are skippable), but Neon White’s brilliantly clean visual execution feels at odds with these smarmy and obnoxious interactions.

It’s unfortunate because Neon White has clearly invested effort in its world and characters. There’s a map hub area called Central Heaven where you can chat with other demon slayers and offer collected gifts to advance their individual storylines, similar to Persona. Some of the designs are wild too, from the masked colour-coded assassins to angelic talking cats with cigars. There’s a lot going on that’s interesting, but the irritating dialogue undercuts its potential.

Thankfully, this isn’t enough to derail Neon White as one of the most satisfying, stylish, and compulsive games of the year. It might open its mouth too much, but that’s easy to ignore when the card-switching ballet of jumps, dashes, and bullets is this magnetic. Whether you speedrun or not, this is a heavenly blast to the finish you’ll want to repeat.

Neon White review summary

In Short: A stylish and brilliantly designed blend of first person shooter and platformer, which nails the compelling and addictive chase for the perfect run.

Pros: Card mechanic for movement and attacks is inspired, complex, and fun. Excellent level design with lots of replay value. Stylish visuals and a memorable electro soundtrack.

Cons: Character dialogue is cringeworthy and irritating. There’s a lot of dialogue.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PC (reviewed) and Nintendo Switch
Price: £19.99
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Angel Matrix
Release Date: 16th June 2022
Age Rating: 12

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