Neon White’s demo is fast and stylish
Neon White is a singleplayer speedrunning FPS about honing movement and violence to shave seconds off times while slicing heads off demons. It’s also a visual novel about a goofy good-time gang of anime doofuses who’ve ended up competing for a chance to enter Heaven. It is extremely good and stylish. A demo is available in the Steam Next Fest, and I suggest you have a go.
So, you’re dead, and here you are now in a land of mirror water and marble spires. Drafted by the powers of Heaven to fight demons as a ‘Neon’, maybe you’ll manage to win redemption and a place in The Good Place. This challenge plays out as a series of levels, many of which, done right, take less than 20 seconds. Neon White is a speedrunning FPS, see, a game with medals, leaderboards, wild amounts of air control, and a key binding to restart the level. Enemies are more obstacles than threats, with each level a dash to hit the endpoint while killing every demon.
You’ll have noticed that Neon White has cards, but it isn’t a deck-building game. Found at preset points and dropped by colour-coded enemies, these cards are weapon pick-ups. They’re standard FPS archetypes like an auto rifle, SMG, and rocket launcher. Left-click and murder comes out the end pointing away from you. But right-click and it’ll ‘discard’ the card, consuming it for a weapon-specific special effect. The five weapons in the demo alternately offer a double-jump, an air dash, a timed explosion (yes, of course you can grenade-jump), a ground-pounding dive, and a hookshot.
You’ll need these movement abilties to complete levels, and soon you’ll realise it’s possible—preferable—to use them offensively. This can be extremely pleasing; one favourite level let me use the semi-auto rifle’s airdash to burst through a chain of enemies who, handily, each dropped a fresh new rifle for me. Zoop-zoop-zoop-zoop.
In some levels, you barely touch the ground if you do it right. Observe, my middle-aged fingers hitting the top medal time for the demo’s final level (with room for improvement still):
You can just bumble through a level, collect your Bronze medal, and move on to the next. But it’s fun to improve, to return and hone a run. Speedrunning in 30-second bursts. The medal tiers are nicely timed too. I enjoyed finishing levels and seeing I’d improved enough to hit the Silver or Gold, but when I got the Ace I would know even before the scoreboard loaded. It’s a mastery you can feel, a smooth run where you know you nailed it. And then you unlock global leaderboards to obsess over further shaving milliseconds. I also like how getting Gold on a level unlocks a wee tip to push you towards Ace, revealing a dotted line showing a faster way to do one specific section.
I do wish I could, like in Devil Daggers, view replays of other players through the leaderboards. Either some people are hacking or there are ridiculous tricks I’ve yet to discover, and I really hope I’m being massively outplayed. Despite my Ace medals, I hope I do turn out to be bad at this game, because I’ll be delighted to see what playing well actually looks like.
You can also return to levels to explore and find gifts for various NPCs. These unlock more dialogue and, eventually, sidequests. The one I unlocked was a jaunt into Hell for a challenge focused on the double-jumping pistol.
Neon White is also an anime visual novel with a load of goofballs. The story plays out in visual novel-style cutscenes, between levels and across the peaceful places of the hub. I’m interested. I’m onboard. It’s funny, too.
While Neon White has amnesia, Neons of other hues apparently know him. They’re a good collection of anime archetypes. Neon White tries to act like a cool lone wolf but is insecure and embarrassingly horny. Neon Yellow is our eternally cheery bro, and I’m pretty sure he drops a Naruto reference. Neon Violet is cutesy but violent. Neon Red is wary, distant and vague about our history. They seem a great crew of idiots of get embroiled in Heaven’s mysteries.
I’ve got this far and not talk about how stylish Neon White is. It is: extremely stylish. It takes a lot of confidence and skill to pull off demonic animal masks, leather straps, and buckles galore, but the character designs are great. Levels looks lovely, opening with vaporwave visions of heaven in that lovely 90s CGI way, then transitioning into anime sunset cloud cities. It sounds great too, great music from Machine Girl. The visual novel art is lovely and all. Extremely pleasing.
If you like Paradise Killer‘s vibes, you might dig this. And as far as I’ve seen, no one in this game says “Nani the fuck?”, which I consider a plus.
But why is an anime visual novel in a speedrunning FPS? Because it’s good.
Lead developer Ben Esposito was part of Arcane Kids, the collective behind delightful games including Room Of 1000 Snakes, Bubsy 3D: Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective, and the Sonic Dreams Collection. Alongside wisdom like “the purpose of gameplay is to hide secrets” and “shut up about video games”, the Arcane Kids manifesto said “make games u wish 2 see on the dreamcast”. I feel those Dreamcast dreams in Neon White.
Head on over to Steam to grab the demo. The full game is due to launch “early” this year, also hitting Nintendo Switch. It’s made by Angel Matrix and published by Annapurna Interactive.
Disclosure: Arcane Kids once DJed a great set at an event I helped organise.