Maybe it’s not common knowledge, but Mirror’s Edge is criminally underrated. A first-person combat game that was more about the flow of moving across a playfield instead of simply shooting everything in sight, it was a breath of fresh air at the time. Luckily for a fan like me, the indie scene has taken that concept of running and gunning and developed some truly awesome experiences. Gunrunner comes to mind as a standout and now Neon White joins it, creatively mixing things up enough to delightfully stand tall.
Neon White introduces us to White, freshly dead with a heavy dose of memory loss, who finds himself within the bright clouds of Heaven and challenged to compete against other assassins to flush out the demons that litter the area. Seems simple enough, but it will take quick reactions and a balanced attack to proceed through each level, unlock friendships with weird fellow hunters and talking cats alike, as well as uncover White’s haunted past.
He’s not going to like what happens next
What sets Neon White apart is its combat model. Every weapon you pick up through each level is a playing card, which can be used as normal for an attack befitting the weapon (be it rifle, pistol or sword), taking out various foes in the process. Use the alternate fire mode however, and you can burn the card for a more devastating attack or secondary movement ability. Each card’s alternate ties itself directly into how you’ll complete each level, be it simply getting from one place to the next, reaching higher or further out platforms, or creating sneaky shortcuts to shave off a few precious seconds towards the end goal.
There’s a small catch, every enemy will need to be vanquished in order to unlock the end goal, so you can’t just run through from start to finish thinking time is everything. There’s an element of strategy involved, though thankfully it doesn’t take long to understand how each level can be mastered, ensuring the best use of every card available to you and in what order. To get a gold or higher result, though, will require an extra level of cunning and quick wit.
Each level also holds within it a little secret or two, which can be uncovered randomly during play or revealed by leveling up your insight. The more you challenge yourself to improve your time, the more insight you’ll receive, which reveals where hidden collectibles are, provides a ghost of your previously best run to compete against and unlock a hint or two along the way. It’s a neat touch that pushes you to do better each time, with gold medals the only way to increase your rank to unlock later levels and challenges.
Also, you might want some pain killers
The more runs I made, the more I wanted to improve. First up runs of new levels will always be the worst results, though figuring things out on the fly can feel like quite an accomplishment. Going back over to shave off whatever few seconds I could meant both my timing and understanding of each card improved quickly, a sense of satisfaction as the better results came in. It all feels swift and clean too, and I will say playing with a keyboard and mouse rather than a controller might be the best way to appreciate those super sharp turns and twitch reactions. Much like a title like DOOM, the faster you are the better you’ll fare, and a controller can only do so much in terms of accurately hitting each shot, though it must be said the standard jump feels strangely floaty compared to the rest of the mechanics.
As with all games of this ilk, the later levels are devilish in their trickery, and yet the more you become comfortable with each card you unlock, the easier it can get too. Some of the cards, when played one after the other in quick succession, can lead to some cool moments that don’t come across as well on video compared to sitting down and playing. The challenge was just right, never feeling overly complex, save for a few runs that were deliberately thrown just to get the lay of the land. There were occasions where stopping and checking the surroundings for the right path forward led to a tiny bit of confusion along the way, but as soon as it clicks it’s full speed ahead again.
Prepare to be stomped!
Throughout Neon White’s enjoyable action, there are plenty of anime-inspired chats with Heaven’s locals, leading to some fun dialogue trees that wouldn’t feel out of place in Persona among many other similarly crafted RPGs. It’s not fully animated, but each character pops with little touches fitting of a manga, as White does his best to recall his memories and build back some of the relationships lost. As much as it’s easy to skip over all the cut scenes and dialogue, it’s worth watching things through to enjoy White’s awkward past and the growing relationships he creates with the rest of the cast, led by Spike Spiegel himself, Steve Blum.
There are a few levels later in the game that change things up a little (no spoilers, obviously), though the same concept of stringing together the right attacks and timing of it all still stands. Ultimately it all comes together beautifully, the concept married to a clean and crisp visual presentation and excellent musical backing tracks you can’t help but bop to. True, I still have fond memories of Mirror’s Edge, but Neon White truly captures the feeling of speed and fulfilment.
Can’t see him, though
Once things begin to click, every level of Neon White is an entertaining fever dream that you can’t help but play over again to best your results. The entire package is excellent, but it’s that rush of adrenaline when every move and every quick flick transitions at times seamlessly that drives the experience beyond even initial expectations. When the game slows down to reveal important character moments, it’s a chance to catch your breath, before diving back into the next lot of cleverly paced levels that are wonderfully designed to make the most of the concept without overburdening you with mechanics or brash visuals. Neon White is excellence defined as a speedrunner’s dream.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Angel Matrix
- Annapurna Interactive
- Switch / PC
- June 16, 2022