Neon White, out now for Switch and PC, is easily one of the best games of the year. Between the anime vibes and the kickass soundtrack from Machine Girl, you’ll find a deliciously stylish speedrunning gauntlet that’s as easy to learn as it is hard to master. Over the past few days, I haven’t been able to put it down. Here’s some advice I wished I knew before starting.
Publisher Annapurna Interactive may technically bill Neon White as a “speedrunning FPS,” but it’s not quite that. It’s certainly not a typical first-person shooter. Instead, think of each level—wherein you have to make it from start to finish and kill every demon you see along the way—as a puzzle with a solution. Your goal is to find the fastest route through and then…successfully pull it off. The sooner you rewire your brain away from a Doom mindset, the better at Neon White you’ll be.
You pick up guns in Neon White by running through cards strewn around the map. But each gun isn’t just a weapon. By discarding it, you’ll also get a one-time-use traversal ability—a pistol turning into a double-jump, an SMG turning into a ground-pound, and so on. More often than not, those cards are placed exactly where they need to be for you to use them. In other words, if you pick up a gun that turns into a dash, get ready to dash.
Lest you get the wrong idea, Neon White is emphatically not a deck-building game. You can only carry two types of cards in your hand, though you can (based on my testing) hold unlimited numbers of each card. Your hand is wiped clean at the end of every level. Sure, you have a permanent card for a sword, but…
You start every level with your sword, and you can’t get rid of it. It’s functionally useless in combat; don’t waste your time trying to use it to kill demons. But if you want to save ammo, you can use your sword to smack various helpful in-game objects—explosive barrels, chests (which usually hold cards for guns), and the like.
Even if you know you’re gonna finish a level with a terrible time, it’s worth seeing it through to the end. Simply completing the level will give you the bronze medal, show you the times needed to clock silver, gold, or ace medals, and open up the option to replay that level and find its gift (more on that in a second). Beating the silver time will spawn a specter who reenacts your previous fastest route, giving you a personal benchmark to compete against mid-run. Gold gives you a hint for the level, really helpful for figuring out how to cinch the ace. And if you do that, you’ll be able to view that level’s leaderboards—that’s when the real game begins. (Beating your friends by a millisecond is a thrill.)
At certain points in Neon White you’ll encounter a level gate: To unlock more missions, you need to increase something called your neon rank, your measurement against all the other fictional characters in the game’s story. You start in 100th place. Every time you clock a gold or ace medal, you go up one position. It’s far easier to get a gold on an early level you’ve run through previously than to set it first try on a later one.
Replaying levels you’ve completed also allows you to find gifts, which you can then give to other characters in the game, dating sim-style. Doing so will build your rapport with them, eventually unlocking side-quests—usually a skill-based trial. But in the mere act of finding gifts, Neon White becomes more about exploring than racing. There’s no pressure to set a better time. (Once you find the gift, the level ends.) You’re just poking around, trying to find a brightly colored box with a bow on it. Neon White, it turns out, is very, very pretty when you slow down and take in the sights.
Bonus tip: When looking for a gift, hold on to any guns you have. Also, try to reach the highest point in the level. You can sometimes see the glint of the gift, shaped like a brightly colored box.
Most levels have vending machines tucked away in some corners. Smacking one will give you a card, typically one you need to reach the level’s hidden gift. If you’re trying to set a fast time, and you have the leeway to interact with a vending machine, you’ve already failed. But these are enormously helpful for granting extra traversal tricks that’ll allow you to find gifts.
You can toss away an assault rifle to plant a bomb where your cursor is. Neon White says you can launch yourself by jumping above it right when the explosion happens, which is true, but you also don’t need to time a jump. Merely standing next to an explosion of any kind will automatically launch you into the air—and way higher than you can normally jump. There are ways to use this knowledge for surprisingly useful effect. For instance, ground-pounding onto an explosive barrel will send you pretty high. Ground-pounding onto two explosive barrels will send you even higher (exact measurements yet to be determined). And you won’t take any splash damage, so experiment with explosives to your heart’s content.
Because levels in Neon White are so brief, typically lasting 30 seconds a piece, you might get the impression that it’s an ideal game for multitasking—y’know, fire off a few emails, play a level, get back to work for a bit, play a level, and so on. Uh, yeah, about that. Once you start playing, it can devour your time before you even realize it, and whatever you were trying to “multitask” will get totally left by the wayside. You’ve been warned!