America - Front
America - Back
By Paul Broussard 26th Jun 2022 | 1,526 views
I'm not really sure what it is with killing demons and having a mixture of really fun movement and combat. Doom, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta; it seems like if killing the denizens of hell is on the table, then we'll be doing so with a ton of guns and a character that moves like they've spent the past day hooked up to an IV dripping them caffeine. And now we can add Neon White to the list; a game where moving fast is not just highly encouraged, but mandatory. I suppose this is the next logical step of what I'll tentatively term the "demon killer" sub-genre of action games. I look forward to main character of the next Platinum game having rocket propelled roller skates superglued to their feet.
The plot of Neon White takes place inside heaven, which is currently dealing with a massive pest control problem. God apparently forgot to pack heaven’s walls with the proper sealing insulation and as a result demons are running amok. To combat this, heaven begins employing Neons from hell. Neons are people who died and would be condemned, except God has a demon pest control problem and opts to deal with it by coercing these guilty souls to fight the demons with no compensation besides a fleeting chance at redemption. Sort of like the American prison industrial complex taken to its logical extent.
We play as the titular Neon “White,” who is not only condemned but also an amnesiac, which is still one of the most predictable and uninteresting video game tropes known to mankind. The tropes don’t stop there. The colorful anime art style and upbeat soundtrack can’t disguise the fact that pretty much every major character leans so heavily into one anime trope or another that they quickly become insufferable. There’s the ditzy girl with a violent streak, the dumb but endearing friend, the cagey and aloof woman, etc. For what it’s worth, they do open up a bit later in the game, but Neon White’s cast spends so much of the runtime as absolutely insufferable pillocks that I think the game might have genuinely benefitted from ceasing all attempts at storytelling.
But a bad story can largely be overlooked so long as the gameplay is enjoyable and well designed, and fortunately for Neon White its gameplay kicks ass. I don’t think I’ve played a game that is this much pure “fun” since 2020’s Ghostrunner and, like Ghostrunner, Neon White sells itself as a fast-paced mixture of platforming and combat (albeit with more of an emphasis on shooting than melee combat). It's split into twelve missions, each of which contains a series of individual platforming levels that rarely take more than a minute to beat.
The challenge lies in being able to do this quickly. Neon White not only incentivizes completing each level as quickly as possible with its constant use of rankings and leaderboards, it also refuses to let you progress to the next mission unless you have a certain number of stages with high enough ranks. Moving quickly is only half the game; you are a demon hunter, after all. Each level is littered with a variety of demons, all of whom need to be killed before you're allowed to step into the goal and finish the mission. Being able to juggle parkour and shooting while moving at high speeds is the name of the game.
This is where Neon White’s biggest gimmick comes into play: the guns. Guns serve two purposes here. The first, somewhat predictably, is actually shooting enemies. There’s a wealth of weapons with which you can dispatch your foes, from a simple pistol, to a machine gun, rifle, shotgun, and more. The gunplay itself isn’t anything special, but it flows very well with the fast paced movement. Furthermore, accurately dispatching enemies while flying by at top speed, leaving only a series of explosions in your wake, is a feeling that doesn’t get old.
The second application of guns is where things get really interesting, though. As long as you still have ammo for that weapon, it can, at any time, be discarded for a movement boost. Each gun has a different movement option that comes from discarding it; the pistol grants a double jump, the machine pistol slams you into the ground, the rifle propels you through the air without gaining height, etc. Many of these turn you into a projectile, meaning that discarding weapons can be a good way of quickly dispatching a series of foes that might otherwise take a while to kill. And this presents the dilemma that encompasses the majority of Neon White’s most engaging levels: when should you discard a gun vs. keep it?
Solving that dilemma - and getting the most out of your limited resources - is at the heart of obtaining the very best times across Neon White's myriad of levels. You’ll need to be on the lookout for any opportunity to save time, through shortcuts, good timing, and figuring out the precise moments that it's beneficial to discard weapons. Replaying levels, you’ll often find interesting ways to combine weapon discards to skip significant portions of the level that might not have even occurred to you on your first go around.
As the levels progress, you’ll be called upon to use your weapons and discard options in increasingly complex ways to progress quickly enough to earn those ranks. Levels get much more demanding as the game advances, which I feel is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it's certainly good to see Neon White ramp the challenge up, and not merely remain static. And when the levels are designed around quick thinking and reaction, it can be incredibly satisfying to pull off a fast run.
However, Neon White has a bad tendency to make these tougher levels less about reaction and more about memorization. The game will frequently present challenges or obstacles that, realistically, no one could be expected to respond correctly to on their first go around. Which means that you need several attempts to memorize what to use where, and then realistically an extra try or two to actually do it quickly enough for the necessary rank. It winds up grinding the pace of what should be the culmination of all the fast movement skills you’ve been honing to a crawl.
But for most of its runtime Neon White is a real treat to play, and the unique tradeoff of gunplay and movement choices is a fun gimmick that holds the title together quite well. There’s almost always a game that comes out of left field to wind up on my top five list of games at the end of the year, and Neon White has certainly made a strong case to fill that role for 2022. If you enjoy parkour titles, or really any kind of fast movement gameplay, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to give Neon White a try.