It feels like a good year for independent games to really shine as 2022 seems to be quite thin on the ground in AAA territory.
Elden Ring may seem like a clear front runner for Game of the Year – and really, who would argue with that – but for me, another marker has been laid down by Neon White.
A game that seemingly came from nowhere, Annapurna have published yet another gem that is at times Persona, Mirror’s Edge, Danganronpa, Olli Olli, Ghostrunner, Squid Game, and Fire Emblem. Sometimes all at once.
What it consistently is most of all, though, is fun, infinitely replayable and a massive timesink. From bouncing between enemy balloons to stomping through the opposition, I lost hours and hours meeting the quirky cast, timing my jumps to perfection, and being strung along by its twists and turns.
Coming from developer Angel Matrix, Neon White at first seems a simple parkour fest as you leap from platform to platform, set in Heaven. You’re a hardcore assassin that’s been plucked from Hell to quell an incoming demon threat, but the angelic folk also see it as an opportunity for entertainment and sport, pitting you against other would-be assassins.
Neon White is as much about parkour and puzzle solving as it is about learning more about your identity and the mysterious relationships you seem to have built up with the supporting cast in another life.
But there’s also a rather unique card based system at the heart of it all. As you collect the different coloured Soul cards, you temporarily gain access to different abilities along with the use of a unique firearm.
Beginning with Yellow, you have a one use double jump to get you to a higher ledge, but this also doubles as a handgun for you to fire at demons. Be careful, though, as the more you shoot, the more the colour drains out of the card. Once it’s all gone, that card is lost before you get a chance to use it.
Eventually you’ll acquire cards that let you throw a bomb that can take out a group of enemies and boost your jumps in one blast. Also Soul Cards where you can dash horizontally and stomp down vertically. Each Chapter introduces something new, keeping the action fresh and frenetic.
But there’s also room for some downtime in the heavenly hubs where you can chat to the other assassins, find out more about them and even build up relationships. Each level has a hidden gift which is unlocked by acquiring a base bronze medal. Once you’ve got that, you can earn up to a Platinum for the speed in which you beat the level, but you’ll also have to find a hidden coloured gift in order to progress your relationships.
Once you do, you can take it back to the hub and progress your relationship bar, sometimes opening up a new dialogue scene, unlocking a memory and even performing side quests. These are actually some of the most fun parts of the game -as well as the most taxing – as they come with their own unique gimmicks. Neon Yellow, for instance, doesn’t allow you to use any Soul Cards during his levels, whereas Neon Violet’s levels are full of deadly spike traps which you have to avoid.
It definitely has a difficulty curve that’s going to frustrate some people, but its approachability from the first chapter and the way it gradually ramps up to that point must be commended, even when you’re retrying again and again, desperately wishing you’d never started playing.
I just love how the game kept bringing in interesting twists and turns, like unexpected boss battles and big twists in the story, along with all the different Soul Cards, Weapon types, and sub-plots. Neon White was just a very refreshing experience from start to finish, and one I cannot recommend highly enough.
Neon White is full of some of the most refreshing, engaging action I’ve seen in ages, but it also has surprising soul and heart in its characters and story. It’s a total package in every sense of the word. Just be prepared, it’ll keep you glued to the screen long into the night and deep into a weekend.
+ Great sense of style
+ Well-polished gameplay and mechanics
+ Surprisingly engaging story and characters
+ Keeps feeling fresh throughout the campaign
– Difficulty curve won’t be for everyone.
Neon White is out now on PC, PS5, Switch, and XSX
Played on PC
Code Kindly Provided by Annapurna