When I first saw Neon White, I was almost in disbelief. Wedged in the middle of a Nintendo Direct back in February of 2021, Neon White’s reveal trailer showed off a stylistic version of heaven where sinners compete to win a spot in heaven. Featuring Machine Girl’s signature breakbeat music, flashy card-flippin, gun flingin’ gameplay, and a well-dressed main character voiced by Steve Blum, the game had my attention almost right away.
Now that it’s out, Neon White may well become my game of the year. That is to say: Neon White is fucking amazing.
It’s almost unreal to think of how I felt about Neon White upon starting the game versus where I stand now. Because as excited as I was for Neon White initially, the game hardly received any sort of media coverage prior to its release. Generally when games get announced by big companies before subsequently being shoved out the door one day with no marketing behind it, I get worried. Worried that a game may not be as great as its announcement would have you believe. Or worse… completely devoid of promised features.
Luckily that wasn’t the case here. Any anxieties I had about Neon White being yet another indie attempting to stand out faded once I saw that introductory cutscene. As a lifelong fan of anime, I can’t help but turn my attention to any well animated, tightly crafted intro sequence. Shortly afterward, I was plunged (quite literally I might add) into a story I was not at all prepared for.
One full of colorful characters who are fantastically voiced and a complete joy to be around, save for some anime tropes I could do without. Each character in Neon White has their own unique quirks, speech patterns, motives, and more for you to become accustomed to. Whether that’s for better or for worse is entirely up to you.
Whatever your opinion may be, know that Neon White has all sorts of fantastic twists and turns in store for you over the course of its roughly 10 hour run time. Well, roughly ten 10 hours if you just go for the end credits. Going for the game’s “true” ending could easily double your playtime.
This would be an issue in most games, especially for people who have limited time to play games in the first place. Thankfully Neon White offers up some of the best gameplay I’ve experienced in a long time, and it does it while respecting your time. I’m certain anyone who gives it a chance will say the same.
Neon White is a speedrunner’s next best friend and also their next short-term arch nemesis. It earns the best friend title thanks to this game’s obvious focus on speedrunning and pinpoint accuracy. It then proceeds to become an enemy after you realize that Neon White feels so good to play, you’re likely to eat the whole thing up in a week.
What I think amazes me most about the entire thing is how these two aforementioned relationships come as a result of a gameplay loop that really shouldn’t work as well as it does. On paper, the idea of a graphic novel first person shooter with short levels that can be completed in a variety of ways using cards that are actually guns that can be discarded for increased mobility options seems like something that shouldn’t work. Upon execution however, it becomes apparent that these systems have been finely tuned to perfectly compliment and coexist with one another.
Going into Neon White, my biggest worry was that the core gameplay would be too convoluted to keep my interest. Either that or it would be too complicated for many people to even bother with it. Thankfully the devs struck a great balance between card variety and limitation so as to not overwhelm the player.
And if Neon White’s story and gameplay were the gifts under a hypothetical summertime Christmas tree, then Machine Girl’s fantastic score would be the paper used to wrap these goods. This soundtrack features two album’s worth of breakbeat after breakbeat, all of which feel right at home alongside everything else in Neon White. Since my time with Neon White, I’ve routinely found myself revisiting the soundtrack both while working at home and while driving around in my car. If nothing else has sold you on the game yet, I sincerely hope this single paragraph does. The music is THAT good.
All together, I think all of this makes for a truly memorable and one of a kind experience. It’s rare that such a near flawless gem plops on out of the mines that are the current gaming space, but Neon White is an exception. A finely crafted game with hardly anything worth complaining about is something that’s become much less frequent in gaming. Thankfully Neon White came along to rekindle my optimism for what sorts of new and exciting games we can expect from developers moving forward.
If there’s one game you check out this year, make sure it’s Elden Ring. But after that, consider giving Neon White a go. If anything I’ve said in this review has even remotely spiked your interest in the game, then I have the utmost confidence that you’ll enjoy your time with it. Just… remember to take breaks if you decide to go for 100% completion. Your thumbs will thank you.