Ben Esposito has become somewhat of a star in the indie game scene over the last decade. From his work on Giant Sparrow’s The Unfinished Swan and What Remains of Edith Finch, to his part in Arkane Kids’ bizarro titles like Sonic Dreams Collection, you’ve likely come across him somewhere.
However, Esposito is probably best known for 2018’s Donut County — a game about a raccoon who controls holes in the ground through a mobile app so that he can get a quadcopter. Donut County was a breath of fresh air with its great puzzles and fantastic writing; and while it was a tad short, it’s definitely Espositio’s best work to date… until now.
Neon White is a hard game to pin down to one single genre. Part platformer, part first-person shooter, part card game, part social sim. It sounds like a risk of too many cooks in the kitchen, but Neon White has blended them all together perfectly to create a five-star meal.
You take on the role of White, an amnesiac and one of many Neons (“sinners plucked from hell to do god’s dirty work”) selected for a yearly demon-slaying competition, with the grand prize being a year in heaven. Joining him in this competition are fellow Neon’s Yellow, Violet, Red, and the reigning champion Green, all of whom know White in some way from their time in the mortal realm.
While the amnesiac protagonist is a tried and true trope, we were pleasantly shocked at just how strong the storyline was in Neon White. The story behind White’s past from the land of the living is masterfully told and gives you the exact right amount at any time to keep the mystery intriguing. The same goes for White reacquainting himself with his former squad; you learn more about them at the same time White does. We witness characters such as the overly friendly dudebro Yellow and the sadistic e-girl Violet go from slightly obnoxious to people you genuinely care about by the end. It’s a testament to the strength of their character arcs.
If you’ve played Donut County, you’ll likely remember it for its humour. Neon White takes that ball and runs as fast as it can with it; we can't remember the last time we audibly laughed so much at jokes in a game. While it uses modern internet terminology like “himbo” and “e-girl”, it’s used sparingly enough that it doesn’t border on obnoxious. The character dialogue feels authentic, even when it goes full anime. It’s telling that the dialogue sections never felt like busy work to get through before returning to the fantastic gameplay.
At its core, Neon White is a first-person platformer; throughout each stage, you collect cards which act as your weapons. Gunplay is important, but the main use for these guns lies in their ‘discard’ abilities, where you remove the card from your hand for extra movement options. That ranges from simple abilities like the pistol giving you an extra jump, to the shotgun letting you air dash in any direction. Correct use of discards are paramount to getting through each level and even allow you to craft routes of your own throughout each level, boosting your times.
If we were to describe Neon’s gameplay with one word, it would be 'fluid'. Everything about the way the game feels, from the movement to the gunplay, feels gorgeous — especially with the smart use of gyro aim. We’re sure a lot of you hear the term ‘first-person platformer’ and recoil in terror. However, the team at Angel Matrix has learned from others' past mistakes to craft something fantastic.
Each level feels masterfully designed, allowing for the smoothest possible platforming experience. The level design always accounts for which way the player will be facing, removing the frustration of adjusting your positioning. There’s also smart placement of cards in each level, which almost entirely removes the need to fiddle around with switching cards and never distracts from the platforming.
Each level is timed and subsequently graded on how well you performed; each of the four ratings (bronze, silver, gold, and ace) also gives you an insight level. This offers extras for replays, such as player ghosts, global leaderboards, and hint markers to help you boost your best times to reach the ace. Players are required to get a select number of gold ratings to boost their neon rank and progress in the game; however, it’s fairly lenient and never affected us in our time playing the game.
Another one of these extras comes in the form of the game's only collectibles, the ‘gifts’ which can only be collected after a level’s first run. Initially, it seemed annoying to have collectibles locked behind a second run, but they completely re-contextualise each and every level. The gifts aren’t hard to find usually, most of them are in plain sight — barring some near the end that are a little obtuse. However, the act of collecting these gifts requires an intimate knowledge of the level layouts and item placement. The challenge of these collectibles transforms each level into a puzzle-platformer, and are incredibly satisfying to figure out.
Gifts are subsequently given to your comrades to boost your insight level with each of them (think of it as a variant of Persona’s social-link system). This offers up extra dialogue, memories of their time on Earth, and side quests, which are extra stages matching the personalities of each character. Red focuses on smart use of your discard abilities, while Violet's stages are sadistic death traps that test your survival skills in this game.
Neon White also packs some fantastic visuals. It runs near-flawlessly in both docked and handheld modes, with the only noticeable hitches occurring in a couple of the later levels. The game also boasts an incredible soundtrack from the drum ‘n’ bass duo Machine Girl, who gives each chapter its own banger to hype you up throughout the game. The aforementioned writing is only strengthened by strong performances across the board, with specific praise going out to Steve Blum and Courtney Lin as White and Violet.
From its excellent writing, music, and presentation to its intense and satisfying core gameplay, Neon White is one of the most exciting things we’ve played all year, and it’s a game we can't see ourselves putting down for a long time as we try to best our previous times. It successfully brings together elements from apparently disparate genres in new and exciting ways and seems poised to become the next great speedrunning title. It's one that action game fans and Switch owners in general won't want to miss.
Today seems to be a good day for games huh?
This is one that always looked interesting but I had no idea how well it'd turn out. Glad to hear that it's really good. Will definitely pick it up sooner or later.
I was wondering if this one was gonna be good, looked quite interesting in that direct video, glad to see it's not just style before substance.
OMORI, Shredder’s Revenge and this… it’s gonna be a busy week!
Dang this turned out to be pretty damn good.
Will one day get it but I hope they do patch out any hitching issues.
You know, I don't mind the Direct being delayed a bit.
Will buy but will you reviewers stop complaining about "Performance hitches", frame rate drops? You are over-blowing this, saying it because you feel obligated to say something bad. "frame rate" issues actually feels good at times, sort of a slow down, "matrix" like effect. stop being smh with frame rate people.
It felt like May had no new games... now June is like "hold onto your wallet, sucker!"
Glad this is good, hoping there’s a physical release from iam8bit or something. They’ve published a few Annapurna titles in the past.
Well I'm sold.. I'll definitely add this to my wanted list 😁
@clockworktwink agreed, it gets on my nerves, find a game that doesn’t have a few technical issues.
@clockworktwink Idk if this is a sarcastic comment or not haha, but I really value hearing about what frame rate/resolution a game runs at and whether or not it's consistent. Especially when it comes to a multiplatform release where I like to know how the Switch version holds up to PC.
"Hilarious" is not what I expected from this and ratcheted my interest way up! This sounds like a game I'd enjoy. I'll be waiting patiently for a physical release now.
Glad to hear this turned out well. It certainly caught my attention during the initial reveal.
Had a feeling about this one and it appears to have delivered. Yeah, I'm down for an insta-download. Cheers for the review as always.
Sorry to the vocal minority here, but I want to know when a game has technical issues. Such as bad frame pacing, drops or hitching. No matter how minor. It does have an overall impact on my purchase. AND, as far as the the reviewer mentioning it (if they’re being professional) it’s their job to. Good job NL. Keep it up
Is the performance at 60 fps on Switch? Only thing keeping me from choosing between Switch or steam.
I like it when there are devs that are truly taking the Switch to its limit unlike big corp devs like Sega and Square Enix.
ehh. i will admit the aesthetic is cool. but it moves wayyy to fast for me. pass.
I feel like I should have seen this coming, but I really didn't.
Looks like this will be a good summer for video games!
The fact Machine Girl did the OST means I’ll 100% grab this. Because I’m Young Arrogant and Hate Everything You Stand For on tape is one of my most prized possessions.
I've played the PC demo on Steam a few times and it's great fun!
Definitely, a game to look at! Though I prefer using Keyboard and Mouse for FPS games, so I'll be sticking with the PC version; it would be awesome if they add keyboard and mouse support to the Switch version.
Trailer kind of lost me at the "card game" part to be honest. Plus I wasn't really that big on Donut County.
I've been waiting for this review for so long now, super excited to see the game came out so well. Will add this to the (long) list of things to buy eventually.
I love the implication that they blended and cooked the cooks
Hard no from me as it has first person play which makes me throw up and cards which I detest in a video game.
Great for those into the genres though.
Really wish NL did video reviews. Looks like a game I'd need to see in action to get any real sense of it. Almost always end up going elsewhere for such reviews that actually give me enough impression to go by.
@NinjaWaddleDee it’s 60 fps on Switch
Wow, this game is getting really good reviews across the board. Definitely getting this now.
Ok, color me surprised. I'll let this live on my wishlist for a sale.
Not my kinda game, but it's always nice seeing a indie exclusive getting rave reviews like this
Been interested in this since the first reveal, I'm glad it turned out great.
I'm gonna get the pc version because playing fps games with a controller is atrocious.
I'm currently #1 in the global leaderboards on one of the early stages. It's such an incredibly minor thing and someone will no doubt knock me off soon enough but for now I'm sitting at work feeling very proud of myself.
Awesome! This game has been on my radar since it was announced. I loved Donut County so much that I bought it on four platforms. I was worried that the dev was being too ambitious, but It looks like he did it.
So glad that Esposito was able to release this on his terms and not be undermined by thieves.
@Lizuka The cards in the game are basically your guns and abilities. The idea is that each card can be used in two ways, the elevate card can either be used as a handgun, or you can burn it to perform a higher jump or a double jump after doing a normal jump. The purify card can be used as a submachine gun, or it can be burned to lob a sticky grenade that you can use to kill a group of demons, and/or be used to perform Quake-style rocket jumps. But the main idea with these cards is that even though you can stack them, you can only use whats on the top of the stack, and I believe that in later levels you have to be careful about what cards to pick in what order so that you can efficiently complete the level.
I'm so happy this turned out to be good, it looked really interesting from the first trailer. Reminds me of Suda51.
This game is excellent. The level designs are extremely well done and it really does incentivise you to play each of them multiple times. Failure never feels unfair and it takes seconds to get back in the action for one more try. The social aspect is actually rewarding too, you can unlock new levels by increasing your bond with each other neon. It isn't punishingly difficult but definitely requires your full attention. I love it, well worth the purchase price.
"fantastic writing" feels like it's waaaaay stretching it...i've been groaning the whole time
great gameplay, aesthetics, and somehow, machine girl music that doesn't make me want to stab my ears with pens. god i hate so much of what they do normally.
but the writing is full of ultra-cringey pseudo anime character tropes, exacerbated by truly insufferable voice performances. at least it helps me skip through the dialogue quicker instead of listening to the entire voiced lines like i usually do before advancing dialogue.
and it's still not enough to make the game not amazing. but that's more a function of how great everything else was. a lesser game would have been completely ruined by the writing and the acting here
@somebread THANK YOU
i was especially disappointed as i loved the writing in donut country SO much.
@k8sMum that first is a fair line to draw but the second is kind of weird. especially considering the card thing is more of a motif than an expression of actual card-based mechanics. what are cards here could very well just be conventional weapon items; they just look like cards largely as an aesthetic choice
Another game where the Devs forget to add an invert vertical option on motion controls. They seem to forget that if you invert the stick controls it makes motion controls invert at same time so they end upside down and ruin the games fluidity.
If you play with inverted vertical you may want to hold off to see 8f they patch this simple issue.
Got an Edge 9, so I dipped straight away. Currently on chapter 3. So far so good. Love the aesthetic, audio and gameplay, but will likely restart since I've been skipping the interactions.
@clockworktwink A lot of this is down to a lack of education and Digital Foundry. While I appreciate what they do, a couple of frame-drops in any game is not game breaking.
@Pixelated_Otaku Really no option to invert motion controls/gyro aiming independently of stick aiming?? This is the same issue I had with Dusk when it first launched, inverting stick aiming also inverted gyro aiming, which for me made it all wonky, upside down like you said. Of course you could just switch off gyro controls but it seemed like such an oversight on an otherwise essentially flawless (IMO) port. Thankfully the developers rather quickly added not only an invert gyro aiming toggle, but gave gyro controls their own menu entirely, with all kinds of tweaks and adjustments available. I couldn’t have been happier.
Have the devs by chance fixed/patched this yet?
@DOOMguy still on version 1.01 so no updates or gyro fixes yet, it's a shame as with the gyro working correctly this will be a cracking game.
@Pixelated_Otaku Thank you for this, as I play FPS with inverted horizontal controls (pulling down on stick to to aim high on a target just feels natural to me).
I was about to purchase, then read this comment and am going to find out if this has been remedied.
Makes FPS unplayable for me when you can’t invert the y axis…
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