But you also wouldn’t be wholly right, either. Because Angel Matrix’s wickedly fast 3D platforming puzzle-shooter is all of those things, and a lot more you wouldn’t be able to expect.
As someone who missed the boat on Neon White the first time around when it launched on PC and Nintendo Switch, I’m entirely thankful that the only things I’ve had spoiled for me with Neon White is others telling me it’s a very good game.
Now that I’ve played it, allow me to be one of those people who also tells you that Neon White is indeed, a very good game.
Neon White Review (PS5) – Not Bad For A Dead Guy, Huh?
You Call This Heaven?
When you first step into the world of Neon White, you’re told that you’re in Heaven. Well, not for you and your in-game character, named Neon White.
White is a Neon, a person who’s died after leading quite the sinful life of murder and crime, and has been so judged that they’re doomed for Hell, but if you’re able to compete and win a competition held by God’s “Believers,” then you’ll be granted a spot in Heaven.
Entry in his new environment though has landed him with a bout of amnesia on who he was before this, and who everyone else who seems to know him is.
The competition itself is what you’ll spend the 12 episodes going through, with most episodes filled with 10, short levels that put you through your 3D platforming paces with the soul cards.
Soul cards are your weapons, and movement abilities. You fire them for their standard use, and discard them for their alternate use, which is also usually something that can be used as an offensive tactic against the demons you’re sent to hunt down.
What really makes things feel easy to learn in Neon White however is the level design. The goal in each level is to always destroy each demon and move through to the goal as quickly as possible.
Each level encourages creative use of the soul cards, both in their standard abilities as a pistol, machine gun, shotgun, submachine gun, rifle or rocket launcher, and in their alternate abilities, through their design.
Most of the soul cards have movement based alternate abilities, such as a zipline shot, a double jump, a horizontal, downwards, and any-way-you-like-wards dash.
The machine gun is left the odd card out, though it’s explosive alternate bomb shot does let you bounce off the explosion, so that’s more of a two-birds-one-stone deal.
It can sound complicated, but once you’re through the tutorial, everything becomes clear, and each new card introduced only adds a further layer to how you’re able to move around in each level.
Tugging At Heartstrings
While Neon White’s gameplay is meticulously crafted, the thing that surprised me about Neon White more than anything else was its narrative.
Plenty of games in the similar vein of Neon White, that egg you on to shoot for a faster time, a smoother run, a higher score, leave any story squarely to the wayside, there only as a vehicle to explain away the game world.
Neon White is inherently different in that however, and takes an approach that felt more like Katana Zero, where you can always go for a faster, smoother, better run, but the story is integral to the experience, at the very least on your first playthrough.
Neon’s Red, Yellow, and Violet, along with the Angel’s Mikey, Gabby, and Raz are all very likeable characters in their own way.
On top of returning to a level to better your time, you can collect gifts for your friends, earning you some time spent and more dialogue with them, a side-quest, which manifests as an even more bite-sized level, hyper focused on one aspect of gameplay, and eventually a memory from your past.
I won’t go into any core plot details, but they each have moments that, despite the events of the critical path, make them endearing, and genuinely make you care about them.
Which is as good a point as any to shoutout that the performances from the voice cast are all wonderfully done, and plays a huge part in Neon White’s ability to tonally shift from a very serious scene to something out of left field, and downright goofy.
For example, I’ll not soon forget the time White’s reward for being a top performer was to make friendship bracelets with the person who’s already been identified as your enemy in the game. Or when that same character made you a burger during your reward barbecue.
Neon White somehow always manages to feel light and fun in the face of huge themes and high stakes, which makes the effort of getting gifts feel even more rewarding, far before you unlock a memory from your past.
The beginning of each new episode felt more like tuning into a new week’s installment of a favourite show, capable of being the thing that can make you laugh and cry in a short span of time.
Keep Up The Pace
Part of makes the learning curve you’ll experience with Neon White feel seamless is its pacing. Each level builds in its complexity in such a way that you always feel like you’re skills are improving just in time for Neon White’s latest challenge or new soul card thrown into the mix.
There’s also an in-game medal and rank system, that’ll prevent you from progressing to the next episode if you fail to meet the rank requirements, and you need to earn at least a gold medal to increase your rank.
In theory, this’ll help make sure you’re not diving into levels you’re not ready for, but if you’re consistently earning gold or ace medals on even just most levels, then you’ll never have an “insufficient rank” as Gabby would say to move onto your next mission.
That does make the whole ranking system feel a little pointless, but I still didn’t mind it, even as just something to track my progress through the game.
Earning a new rank each level ended up becoming a personal goal I set, which meant I never moved on to the next level until I at the very least hit gold.
The only pacing I don’t think worked as well in Neon White is that of the story. Mainly your relationships with each character, as the effort required to get enough gifts to unlock a memories with the other Neon’s, while rewarding, can be slow going, as you’re replaying each level solely for the gift.
Stopping to make sure you’ve gotten every gift in each of the ten levels across an episode felt like putting the brakes on things for a little too long, and I found myself wanting to get to the next point in the critical path more than I wanted to get enough gifts for some new dialogue.
Not Bad For A Dead Guy, Huh?
As I said at the top of this review, Neon White is a very good game. The story isn’t exactly innovative and its possible for things to feel like they come to a crawl if you’re trying to dig into each relationship, but the gameplay is exquisite, and overall the narrative is fairly enjoyable, with more than endearing characters.
It’s not exactly anything to write home about visually, beyond the illustrated characters and scenes. Levels tend to blend together in their look from one major environment change to the next, and it doesn’t help for them to look all that different when you return to the same areas.
None of that however stops Neon White from being a thrilling time you’ll not want to put down until you’ve hit the credits, and even then you’re likely to still want to hit an ace on each level.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention just how perfectly Neon White’s soundtrack plays into the game feeling so fun to play.
All in all, Neon White is not bad at all for a dead guy.
Neon White is now available on PS5 and PS4.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.