There are few things in gaming more exciting to me than speedrunning. Twice a year, without fail, you’ll find me plonked in front of my TV watching Games Done Quick – a week-long marathon celebrating the latest and greatest runs around. As I watch on with my eyes glued to the screen – the eyebags developed from staying up most nights during each event worn proudly like dark, fleshy medals – I ponder what it’s like to sink your entirety into mastering a game inside and out.
However, as one might imagine, life as a games writer requires me to be aware of everything, everywhere, all at once in the gaming world, and descending down the speedrunning rabbithole is a recipe for disaster. Yet, there I was, several hours into Angel Matrix’s anime-infused, breakcore-injected, speedrunning FPS game, Neon White, refusing vehemently to progress past the first level until I had taken the top spot on the leaderboard.
Taking up the mantle of White – the leader of a group of deceased assassins called ‘Neons’, which are summoned up to Heaven by its denizens to exterminate demons in return for a chance at salvation – you must gun your way through 96 expertly-handcrafted levels as quickly as possible.
Drawing inspiration from late-90s/early 00s (predominantly) Japanese media, Neon White is a game built to evoke nostalgia, but with a modern edge. This is best exemplified by the incredible OST driving the game from electronic duo Machine Girl, which manages to feel contemporary while simultaneously conjuring up memories of me playing Wipeout as a kid. It’s the perfect soundtrack to vibe along to while attempting that one level for the billionth time.
Indeed, if, like me, you grew up on a diet of PlayStation demo discs and Naruto Linkin Park AMVs, this is the game for you. If you’re a bit more new wave and meow for heals in Valorant, or bark for Chainsaw Man’s Makima… this game is also for you. “By freaks, for freaks” as the game’s slogan states; we’re all comrades here.
Thanks to a core gameplay loop that matches a low skill floor with an attainably-high skill ceiling, Neon White is a game that offers plenty of room for improvement, without the chasmous level of complexity found in some of the more sophisticated speedruns out there. By design, it is the perfect entrypoint for those looking to dip their toes into speedrunning, offering up enough unique mechanics to separate the peons from the Neons.
While the reviews have generally been glowing across the board, there is one often-criticised area of Neon White: its dialogue. Okay, yes, the writing can be a *bit* gaudy – and at times suitably fruity (not that I have a problem with that, *cough*) – but I assure you this is by design, and the game’s colourful cast of characters (one of the angels is actually a cigar-smoking cat from New Jersey, make of that what you will) are actually a joy to get to know through its visual novel format.
As lead dev Ben Esposito told The Loadout earlier in the year, Neon White’s dialogue emulates a lot of the absurdities present in the localised PSP games he enjoyed sinking hours into during his youth: “the idea of this tone that can go from being really sincere, to completely absurd in the next scene is actually kind of comforting”, he said at the time.
In essence, Neon White is liquid crack being smuggled through digital storefronts under the guise of a weeby, card-imbued shooter. The promise of ecstatic highs achieved by knocking a couple milliseconds off of your previous record is impossible to turn down.
Yes, there are smatterings of cringe jotted throughout the narrative here and there, but it’s premeditated cringe with a solid cast so I’ll allow it – doubly so for the fact that White is voiced by none other than Cowboy Bebop’s Spike Spiegel (Valorant’s Brimstone) himself, voice acting royalty Steve Blum.
It’s for all of these reasons that Neon White is, undoubtedly, my 2022 Game of the Year nominee. Even if you aren’t much of an anime enjoyer, at least give it a spin for its addictive gameplay alone – you won’t regret it.