Shouldn’t the ice cream bar be serving Heavenly Hash?
When Neon White debuted in the first Nintendo Direct of 2021, I was immediately intrigued by the premise. Like it asks, why would Heaven need assassins, and what’s the story of the name? Now that I’ve had time to play it, Neon White is a stylish shooter that is perfect for both get-in-and-get-out moments and its surprisingly deep story that kept me going long past the normal sell-by for a speedrun game.
As it turns out, Neon White is a title that refers to the main character: a Neon in this universe refers to a dead sinner who has a chance to earn redemption by doing the dirty work of the heavenly host, and they’re all separated by color. Heaven is definitely not the idyllic, peaceful place you’d expect it to be in Neon White: it’s actually been overrun by demons who need to be removed as quickly as possible. The main character does have plot-convenient amnesia for his actions in life that led to the assassin gig, which is normally an irritant, but it turns out White was actually really good at asking the questions I was. There are also unlockable side events that flesh out heaven a bit more; it turns out being a permanent resident of paradise can make someone arrogant and haughty.
The core gameplay is based around “missions” of multiple levels, with each level having two objectives: kill all the demons in the area and get to the exit. This is designed to be done quickly: most stages have recommended times of around 30 seconds, and the only stages I found that even went over a minute were infrequent multi-stage boss fights and the last level of missions in the late game. The killing demons part is accomplished by cards that represent different varieties of guns. Each gun can fire bullets of a different type - pistol, shotgun, semi-automatic machine gun - and when the gun is “released” or dropped, it allows White to move forward in the environment in some fashion. The game is mostly controlled by the shoulder buttons: LZ jumps, RZ fires, and R releases on the Switch controller, with the minus key used for a quick restart of the level in the event a gun is released too early or a monster is about to take White out after his health is depleted. And when going for gold medals, a quick restart is always nice.
The medal system is the thing that will keep the truly invested coming back for a long time. Depending on the finishing time, a bronze, silver, gold, or blue-ish “Ace” medal will be awarded, each of which unlocks a different “insight” into the level. One irritant I personally had with the system is that although each stage has its own global leaderboard, unlocking it requires getting the Ace medal; I would put up gold medal times more often than not, but was only able to see the leaderboard for a single stage in the review period. Gold medals are key in Neon White, as a certain number of them are required to unlock further missions by way of a “Neon Rank,” which drops from 100 to presumably 1 as gold medals are earned. As a skill check, it’s logical and that’s all I can ask for.
I’ve got nothing to complain about with regards to the technical performance of Neon White. Both in handheld and docked, I didn’t notice any performance issues; though I’m not sure of the framerate, it definitely felt locked there. (Note from editor: It's 60 FPS.) There was one initial long load just before the review was written as I opened the game up, but the other opening loads were only 5-10 seconds and the loading between levels was brisk as well. My only technical complaint is related to the text. There were a surprisingly high number of missing/inappropriately placed commas and some times where the onscreen text didn’t line up with the spoken text.
Although it’d be fair to assume that white would be the dominant color of heaven, the Neon White works in a nice amount of blue as well in the outdoor areas. The demons are clearly differentiated, which helps as a visual cue as to what type of gun is required to take them out, and the other Neons all have their own distinct looks. The music isn’t really all that memorable, so I ended up treating it as a podcast game.
Although it’s coming out at a packed time of year, Neon White should definitely be on the radar of Switch owners. Whether trying to stay ahead of the story, ripping off a stage or two in between games, or trying to shave a few hundredths of a second off your level time to get up the leaderboards, there’s always an excuse to shoot up heaven.