April 23, 2024
A hitman destined to Hell awakes in Heaven, what do you get? A game of the year contender, of course! The Finger Guns review:

Every now and then, a truly special game finds its way onto your radar. For every Breath of The Wild, there’s an Elden Ring. For every Goldeneye, there’s a Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. When titles like this land on your hardware, it’s not just a great experience – it’s a breathtaking, spectacular and truly immersive one. Neon White is one of those special titles.

Mixing lightning fast combat and traversal with expertly crafted puzzles within the framework of an accessible but inherently challenging card-ability mechanic, Neon White delivers with serenely enjoyable gameplay. Not only that, it has a crisp anime art style with a variety of locations to soak in as you master the systems and a story that both intrigues and develops into something wholly fulfilling. I rarely, if ever, have a “perfect” experience with a game that warrants a reflective score, but Neon White is, again, one of those special titles.

Ascend To Heaven, Through Hell

Awakening as the aptly named Neon White, you discover that you are, unsurprisingly, quite dead. As a mortal, you were an assassin-for-hire and thus, the Holy almighty wasn’t best pleased with your lifestyle. Consequently, you were promptly designated for Hell, only to be plucked from Hades’ fiery realm to enter Heaven, for a catch, of course. This form of Heaven is run by The Believers – a group of pompous, glowing, high-pitched twerps who have a demon infestation problem. A problem the likes of which can only be dealt with by a more violent natured soul, good thing Neon White has the CV for it.

The setup is only the beginning however, as you’re given various assignments in areas of Heaven to rid the pearly white gates of evil-doers… by being an evil-doer, nice irony. Along the way, you’re introduced a colourful group of fellow would-be demon slayers and Angels (who dish out context and provide your missions). The cast is kept intentionally small, with Neons Red, Yellow and Violet acting as your core squad and Neon Green positioned as primary bad guy. Each has their own nuances and story to uncover – Red is a femme fatale who’s stoic and jibes White frequently, Yellow is our “bro” who lacks basic understanding of words and is lovably goofy and Violet is a psychopathic e-girl who just wants us to simp for her. Cool crew, right?

Well, the thing is, White is suffering from the age-old amnesia trope having awoken in Heaven with no context, memories or clue how he knows this rag-tag band. But, they all know him. Uncovering the plot as you progress almost feels secondary to wanting to learn more about each character and their motivations. They’re obviously all pretty nefarious people, given they’re in Hell-Heaven, but figuring out why Red is distant from White or why Violet is prone to jealousy and angry outbursts is the real motivation for moving forward. Through flashbacks and story interactions you’ll unearth all the mysteries and I was left exceptionally fulfilled come the end.

It wasn’t necessarily the most emotive story ever told, but it made me laugh, had me reflect and even had me saddened, too. Plus, there’s some golden writing nestled within this, whether it be Mikey the cat boss who loves Mafia movies and smokes cigars or bartender Raz who has no alcohol and no sense of human taste buds, there’s a lot genuinely well-written and developed characters to explore. They may be a band of dodgy souls, but by the end they’re your band of dodgy souls.

To Discard or Not To Discard, A Soul Card Dilemma

While I can wax lyrical about how much I adore the characters, Neon White wasn’t clutched out of the depths of Hell to make small talk, he’s here to slay some demonic ass. The core of Neon White is surprisingly simple, especially if you’ve had it explained as an “FPS card game”. Instead, it’s better to think of this as a Doom meets Ghostrunner, with an anime visual artist refereeing the melding of gameplay systems. Each level has “Soul Cards” which take the forms of traditional weapons like the pistol, assault rifle, shotgun or rocket launcher. Hitting left click fires said weapon till it runs out of ammo, hitting right discards the card but triggers a special ability.

For example, you may need to shoot a demon with your pistol, before using its double jump discard to reach the next platform. Your assault rifle is ideal for mowing down hordes, but if you expend all the ammo you can’t use the grenade special it fires to take out a distant group. As you complete missions, the complexity gradually develops, providing an incredibly satisfying incline for your skill. In later levels, you may need to juggle using your rocket launcher to bounce you up a high surface, before ziplining to a distant platform, grabbing an Uzi card to instantly slam through the floor and then dashing with your shotgun special before you curb-stomp to your death.

It sounds complicated and you’d be right in thinking so. Yet, it’s so easily accessible and the skill-gradient required is so smoothly handled, you’ll never truly feel overwhelmed. You’re only ever using WSAD to move, Spacebar to jump and your left or right clicks to fire and activate your specials, that’s it. The trick that Neon White pulls off so spectacularly is the masterful use of level design to create thrilling puzzles through both exploration and combat. Hit a wall with no double-jump card left? You’ve lucked out, try again and think harder.

When you get the hang of the system and you hit that heralded “flow state”, there’s little more immersive than blasting through a level in a matter of seconds, as you switch between abilities, out-gun the demons and feel like a veritable badass doing it. The most impressive aspect of this is you don’t even need to be phenomenal at games to feel like a rapid scourge of awesomeness. Trial and error will teach you where and when to use a weapon or save it. Practice will make your muscle memory hypnotically learn whether you can make that jump. Your reactions need to be laser fast at times, no doubt, but it only serves to fuel the rush you get when you absolutely nail that complicated level. Very few games can elicit the same sense of adrenaline that Neon White achieves with aplomb throughout.

Race Like Your Soul Depends On It

Truly, the structure of Neon White’s above-the-clouds racecourses is where the game hits the pinnacle of its stride. Embarking on a mission usually means clearing about 10 levels, the majority of which can be cleared quicker than you can even process. The vast majority of my finish times where under 30 seconds, with only a small handful taking over 1 minute. The frenetic pace, and your ability to reset the level immediately on failure with the F key, means it envelopes you into that “just one more run, just one more go” mindset. You’ll blaze through them so rapidly you’ll barely have a chance to catch your breath, yet every move you make will feel calculated and precise. You rarely feel certain of your decision-making, but the sheer pace you’re forced to make them simply entrances you into this incredibly immersive loop.

Levels will switch up what’s asked of you – some demanding precise aim and intense reaction speed, while others will challenge your cognitive abilities to figure out the route itself. In order to clear a mission, you have to eliminate every demon before reaching the end goal. More than once I blitzed my way through a level, commending my own ego for a such a proficient job, only to smack back down to Earth when I realised I’d missed one elusive demon. In any other game, I’d be seething. Raging, in fact, at having to restart the level. Not so with Neon White. I laughed at my own hubris, smashed F and dashed right back in to do it all over again with glee.

One particularly exciting level has you racing against a chain-reaction of demons exploding which you initiate at the start. Reach the end after the demon implosions do and the platform you need to reach the goal disintegrates. You’re literally racing against the carnage you unleash, it’s awesome. Other brain teasers have you juggling yourself between floating platforms or squares of glass that break beneath your feet, constantly testing your resolve and ability to think on the fly.

It’s all the more enticing by how you’re judged against the clock. How long you take to finish each level determines that medal you get at the end – Bronze, Silver, Gold and Ace. In order to progress between assignments, you’ll need to meet a certain Neon rank, which you can only improve with Gold or Ace medals. The requirement is never a hinderance (in fact, I never had to go back and replay a mission to move on) but the addictive quality of improving your run scores only adds to the replayability and God complex you’ll develop when you start consistently hitting Gold medals, especially if it’s your first attempt.

That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of this mile-a-minute title. It has an immaculate blend of levels that allow you to revel in the skills you’ve honed, before placing a blockade in front of you and positively demanding you engage your critical grey matter to once again progress. It’s testament to its quality that there wasn’t a single mission or level I didn’t appreciate or love gliding through, each giving me a new opportunity to hone my Neon abilities.

Utopic Suburbea

Adding to the replayability is the fact that each tier of medal you complete a mission with will unlock a perk – a collectible becoming available on a re-run, your previous ghost being shown in-level, hints at shortcut routes and finally, a global leaderboard when you reach Ace rank. Placing collectibles in the level after you’ve finished it once incentivises returning once again, while your improvement in scores to hit Gold then aids you in subsequent runs with shortcut hints to finally hit that elusive Ace rank. You might think this trivialises the skill involvement, but just remember that while it may hint at a faster route, you still have to execute it. That’s after you’ve even figured out how to use your cards to do it.

Collectible gifts you go back to hoover up then contribute to another of the game’s systems – friendship meters. Back at your Heavenly hub world you can visit a bar, a beach, White’s flat and even Mafia boss cat Mikey. It’s nothing super in-depth, but it provides the opportunity to interact with the characters once again, and shower them with material things. Doing so fills up their bar, unlocking new dialogue to flesh out their backstory with White, or even providing side-missions. Fill each character’s meter up enough, you’ll uncover Memories which fill in the blanks from the backstory we as the audience are missing. It’s creates a fantastically compelling loop of replaying levels to gain gifts to provide to each Neon to gain further side-missions and story context. Every mechanic contributes to another with a smoothness even Galaxy chocolate would be jealous of.

The side missions for each Neon also have their own layers of complexity above the typical levels you’ll engage with. In Yellow’s for example, the discard ability for every card is removed, meaning you have to traverse like a boring old regular human. Violet’s will pit you in increasingly precarious levels with death traps, laser tripwires and gauntlets of spikes everywhere. The missions match their personality too, which is an awesome touch – Yellow is too buffoonish to use special abilities, Violet is a raging violent psychopath so it makes sense her side missions are full of lethality and pain.

The hub provides a welcome moment to catch your breath and engage with some further narrative if you so wish, but it’s also mostly optional. You can skip any gift collecting and reach the end none-the-wiser as to the overall picture of events and still have a fully concluded story. You will however, miss out on some superb comedic moments and emotional layers that underpin the backstory of events. Plus, the side-missions are some of the most challenging you’ll face in the entire game (aside from the last 10 or so levels), so they aren’t just fluff or padding – they’re very worthwhile tests of your understanding of the game’s mechanics.

Awash With Holy Light

Anime styles have never really been my jam, but the occasional aesthetic has been known to peak my interest, more so the ultra-violent types like Berserk for example. Neon White however delivers a clean and sharp visual art direction, whether it be the hardened marble white of Heavenly structures or the evil emanating depths of the seedier parts of Heaven. There’s a colour and brightness to Neon White that does a lot of the heavy lifting for the lack of graphical or polygon quantity.

Look, graphics aren’t everything, but they normally help a lot in immersing the player into the vision of the game. Luckily, while Neon White has some blocky textures and oddly undefined lines in its geometry, it also has an abundance of personality poured into every nook and cranny of every level. Enemy designs are clear and obvious to help with the subconscious flow of analysing threats in a split-second. Obstacles, interactables, tripwires and even mimic chests are carefully placed and highly visible to ensure if you screw up a mission, it’s through your own failing or impatience, not the game unfairly tricking you.

Each being has a level of polish to their character model that helps reflect their identity while not being too on the nose, plus it allows for some humerous exchanges about why every Angel in Heaven is a cat. If there’s going to be any criticism of Neon White, I imagine it will be from the slightly simplistic demon and environmental models, which up close won’t do much to impress on their own. Taken as a whole however, Neon White has a gorgeous visual style and a stellar artistic direction. The details may not match up to the AAA offerings of today, but honestly when you’re breezing past or blowing it all up within a second of being near it, you simply aren’t going to care.

In fact, my biggest complaint about Neon White was that it had to end. Seriously. I consider myself someone who’s pretty critical of virtually every game in some way shape or form. Even most of my own personal favourite games of all time I wouldn’t give a 10/10. Yet, when I sat down at the end of Neon White, I was just so genuinely disappointed I couldn’t have more of it. There’s about 90-100 levels (not including side quests), an abundance of dialogue, collectibles and secrets to uncover, all of which took me the best part of 14 hours to fully complete. Despite this, I just wanted more of this world, this story, this gameplay. I rarely experience a yearning for more of the same game after finishing it, but Neon White is just one of those special games.

I went back periodically while playing just to grab collectibles and expand the story. I gathered up everything out of choice – not for trophies or achievements, but because I actually wanted to do so – such is the addictive joy this game brought me. Everything feels worth engaging with, nothing is filler for padding out your time with it. All the thrills, none of the frills. As an aside, collecting everything and gathering all of White’s memories even contributes to a different conclusion to the story, so for once collectible hunting is even tied into the narrative stakes in a logical and meaningful way. Plus, once you’re done you can unlock rush modes of various levels if you’re yearning to prove yourself as the best of the best. Good luck to you, Hell rush mode only gives you one life for every level, so you’re gonna need all the help you can get.

Put simply, I adore Neon White. I was intrigued when we first caught a glimpse of its high octane gameplay last year, but watching this beast in action simply doesn’t compare to the sheer thrill of experiencing it for yourself. You’ll die and fail a lot, but it won’t criticise or deter you, it’ll only have you chomping at the bit to get stuck back in and master its intensely satisfying mechanics. I don’t consider any game perfect, but Neon White is as close to perfection as a game can get for me. Am I going to spend more hours attempting Ace medals just for the sake of it? You can bet your sweet Neon ass I am.

Neon White is a video game vision executed with the kind of immense creativity and skill the industry needs more of. Intensely satisfying gameplay combines with a well-executed story, engaging characters and a crisp art style. Every facet compliments another area of the title with a serene cohesion which culminates in an adrenaline pumping, high-octane blockbuster of a game. Neon White is a very strong contender for my game of the year, and if you own a Switch or PC you owe it to yourself to experience this incredible title. Failure is common in Hell, but only through trial can you reach the salvation of Neon Heaven.

Neon White is available now on PC (review platform) and Nintendo Switch.

Developer: Angel Matrix
Publisher: Raw Fury

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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