Neon White Review: A Heavenly Speedrunner That Lets You Get Your Parkour On

Neon White’s setting thrillingly liberates it from the pesky rules of gravity and the boring old architecture of humans.

Neon White
Photo: Annapurna Interactive

In Neon White, players assume the role of White, a sinner chosen to participate in the annual Ten Days of Judgment. Suffering from a nasty bout of plot-convenient amnesia that keeps him from remembering which of his old mates—Red, Yellow, Violet, and Green—are trustworthy, he competes to earn a year’s reprieve from hell. To do so, players will have to guide him through the various districts of heaven, stylishly and efficiently exterminating demons that have snuck through the firmament in a fashion that crosses between the first-person parkour of games like Mirror’s Edge and the propulsive combat of Doom Eternal, with each weapon and explosive enemy doubling as a mechanic for exhilarating transversal.

Neon White’s setting thrillingly liberates it from the pesky rules of gravity and the boring old architecture of humans, leaving the developers free to embrace momentum and level design above realism. Every enemy placement, every land mass—from island gardens to spiraling aerial aqueducts—serves to help a savvy player move more fluidly from start to finish, and it’s not unusual to find levels that eschew solid ground entirely, mapping out a route through demon corpses as players dynamically grapple from foe to foe above a sea of clouds.

In the context of all this exhilarating gameplay, Neon White’s amnesia conceit comes to feel vital, especially as you enter each new stage for the first time, building memory (muscle and otherwise) along the way. Even the way in which White learns about his teammates is tethered to good mission design, as each course houses a well-hidden gift that can only be reached with some creative and acrobatic maneuvering. White’s abilities, too, are slightly informed by his memories, as he begins each level as a blank slate and can only ever perform the actions of the two most recent weapons he’s acquired—and then, only if he discards them.

This mechanic ensures that White must always quickly adapt to every situation. The game has a Soul Card system wherein almost every card has a primary and secondary attack: An Elevate card allows you to take down targets with your sidearm, and discarding the card will let you double-jump if you’re already airborne, while a Dominion card launches a rocket and, when discarded, allows you to use a grappling hook to attach to surfaces and enemies.

Neon White is a lengthy game and the main quest alone sprawls across 97 stages that will take far longer to complete, let alone master, than their 30-second-to-one-minute speedrun leaderboards might imply. There are also 28 additional side missions that revolve around mastering the specialties of your “friends.” For one, the fox-masked Red’s stages are focused on a single traversal ability, whereas bullish Yellow’s strip those abilities away entirely.

For the most part, Neon White never overstays its welcome. Each mission, a collection of roughly 10 stages, tends to introduce a new weapon or enemy type that makes you rethink how to navigate the game’s crazy world. That includes using the Stomp ability to plummet down through gaps in a gutted skyscraper and activating the Fireball dash to fling yourself toward the “ceiling” of a sector that’s been flipped upside down. Neon White only stumbles in its last few stages because, given that the game is centralized around atonement, it’s downright rude to have levels stretch on for three or more checkpoint-less, unforgiving minutes.

That misstep is surprising considering how perfectly calibrated the rest of the game is. Though Neon White’s heavenly setting encourages perfection and players are required to earn a certain number of Gold medals to advance the plot, those are attainable even with the occasional mid-run mistake. (Ace medals, and a spot atop the global leaderboard, are reserved for pros.) It takes a bit of time to get used to playing at the game’s frenetic pace, but once you understand that each enemy and obstacle has been deliberately placed, it gets easier to read how the game wants you to move between them, and that’s a blissful experience.

This game was reviewed using a code provided by fortyseven communications.

Score: 
 Developer: Angel Matrix  Publisher: Annapurna Interactive  Platform: Switch  Release Date: June 16, 2022  ESRB: T  ESRB Descriptions: Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Blood, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco  Buy: Game

Aaron Riccio

Aaron has been playing games since the late ’80s and writing about them since the early ’00s. He also obsessively writes about crossword clues at The Crossword Scholar.

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