Developer – Angel Matrix
Publisher – Annapurna Interactive
Platform(s) – Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date – June 16, 2022
Disclaimer: Thanks to PR for Providing a Review Copy
Coming from someone who doesn’t usually like card games, Neon White is probably the best one I’ve played. Annapurna Interactive is one of my favorite publishers for a specific reason. Almost every game they put out manages to provide me with an experience that is unique or feels more fun and grounded than even some AAA games. Neon White is no exception in this regard in the slightest.
As was the case with previously released games such as The Pathless and upcoming games such as Stray, I was hooked on Neon White from the first trailer I saw. I should also add that there’s a bit of hyperbole in the first sentence of this review. Neon White isn’t necessarily a card game, it’s more of a fast-paced platformer and first-person shooter. Though, the way that the card system is cleverly implemented into the flow and pace of the gameplay is game design at its finest.
I’m a bit familiar with Ben Esposito, the lead designer of Neon White. I know him from his work on both Donut County and What Remains of Edith Finch. Although I haven’t played either game, I know those games are well received by many and that he was heavily involved with the development of both titles. Based on what I’ve played for the past week, I think it’s safe to say fans will enjoy the banger that Ben and Angel Matrix have delivered with Neon White.
You play as White, an assassin as well as a sinner from hell. You compete against other sinners across a myriad of different levels with one goal, slaying demons. The fastest and best-performing demon slayer over a certain period wins the ultimate prize, entry out of hell and straight into heaven.
The narrative of Neon White surprised me in a good way. I was definitely not expecting the narrative to be as deep as it ended up being. There’s so much depth in every facet from the characters to the world-building. It’s made even better due to the tremendous voice acting from everyone involved from Steve Blum to SungWon Cho.
Neon White tells its story through a visual novel style. For those unaware of a visual novel for a video game, the story is told through text boxes, narration, and animated illustrations. This style of storytelling normally doesn’t appeal to me but it’s done so well here. There were a few times when I felt that some narrations were a bit prolonged more than they needed to be. Thankfully, these instances were few and far between to not be a major issue throughout the game.
The characters and their temperaments are great just on their own. There’s a diverse mood that you experience with nearly every NPC you come across. Aside from a character here and there, you’ll mostly be interacting with the other sinners across the game. In just one conversation, you have a good idea of the personality of each person you interact with. For example, Violet, another sinner, is an energetic and enthusiastic girl and someone who you could even describe as a bit unhinged.
White’s memory is a bit hazy after arriving in the afterlife. Throughout the game, it’s heavily hinted that you had a past with a bunch of the other sinners before death. While you’re competing to get a spot in heaven you’re simultaneously trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle that answers questions about the other sinners and you’re history with them.
Visual novel storytelling isn’t for everyone but there’s something delightful about the way that developer, Angel Matrix executes it. The reason I was so interested in this game in the first place was strictly due to the gameplay I saw in trailers and demos. The story was not something I was anticipating or even thought I would enjoy as much as I did. As usual with reviews close to release, I won’t go too in-depth into spoilers, just now that the narrative kept my attention from start to finish.
Now we get to the absolute best part of Neon White, the gameplay. The reception from trailers of this game tells you all you need to know about how fun it looks to play. When you play a video game, I believe the main objective is to have fun. Neon White is one of those games that carries over perfectly from a trailer to the actual game. From the opening level, you know for a fact that you’re in for a promising time.
Your goal throughout every area is to destroy demons and maneuver your way around each level in a speedrun type of fashion. Soul Cards are scattered throughout every level in the game. Each card has a primary fire ranging from a pistol, SMG, or even a rocket launcher. These soul cards that hold these guns can be used to shoot at and eliminate demons. In addition to guns, each card also has a unique alternate ability. For example, a card that carries a pistol has an alternate ability that gives you a double jump. Or a card that carries a rocket launcher has an alternate Hookshot ability that hooks onto certain platforms such as glass.
The levels themselves are well crafted and can be figured out relatively easily for the most part, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to navigate. At the end of each level, you get a grade level ranging from Bronze to Ace. Bronze means you beat a level and nothing else, Silver adds a gift to the level that can be grabbed and used to earn special dialogue and sidequests with other characters. Gold gives you speedrunning tips and Ace opens up the global leaderboard.
Neon White is one of those games that always brings me back to try to one-up myself. I could get silver on a level but it wouldn’t satisfy me because I knew for a fact that I could do better. Not many games have that effect on me, but the addictive and engaging game loop usually made me stay a long longer on a level than I needed to get every gift and consistently score a gold or higher.
I’m sure you get the point by now, but I can’t recommend this game enough. One of the freshest and most unique games this year is an indie game from one of my favorite publishers. There’s not a single thing that this game is subpar at. The best I can do in this regard is nitpick little things such as the hitbox annoyance from time to time. Usually, when you have to try and dig to see if you have any issues with a game, it’s a sign of the quality of the title you’re playing.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned the visually appealing art style, excellent optimization, and engaging techno music from Machine Girl. From the narrative to the gameplay, Neon White left me more than satisfied with my experience. Without a doubt, one of my favorite games of the year so far and I have no doubt it’ll satisfy everyone that’s been looking forward to playing it since the announcement trailer in 2021. All I can do is tell you that if you have a Nintendo Switch, PC, or Steam Deck you should go out and buy Neon White, I don’t think you’ll regret it!
Rating - 9.5/10