Neon White – Zero Punctuation

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Oh Yahtzee, you should do Diablo Immortal. It’s a bit boring and the camera zooms in too close, and it’s also the most insidious work of evil ever squeezed out of BeelzeBlizzard’s black, thorny anus. Sounds like you already know what you think, viewers. Why would I make myself miserable all week just to reframe established popular opinion through a lens of dick jokes and gradually change the title to something irreverent. Tell you what, let’s just list all the things I would have called it by now: Diablo Immortal, Diablo Immoral, Diablo Imoverishing, Diablo Income Statement, Diablo In A Gadda Da Vida Baby. Now let’s go ahead and try to spread some much-needed positivity instead. And you know what makes me happy: new indie games that I hadn’t heard of before but really like. The Escapist has a shared list of games to review, which I always try to steal the juiciest carrots from before the 3MR boys get sober on Monday mornings, and Neon White caught my eye as it billed itself as a first-person speedrunning shooter designated. And I have a growing interest in speedrunners, mostly because I feel like someone needs to keep an eye on these guys before there’s an unexpected Mountain Dew shortage and they burn all our cities down.

And after you’ve played it, yeah I suppose you could call Neon White a first person shooter since it’s a first person shooter and you shoot things but the enemies can’t move and all the dynamic characterizations of the hurdles on one have a sprint track. It’s truly a first-person speed puzzle platformer where the challenge in each level is to deduce the quickest path to splat all the mandatory kills and hit the exit. The unique game mechanic is that you pick up weapon cards, which you either shoot in the usual boring type of weapon, or discard them to use a kind of traversal power unique to that weapon – the pistol grants a double jump, the rifle grants a jump in the air. The rocket launcher has a grappling hook, which means that if it also gave off shrimp cocktail flavor leaps from its grip, I wouldn’t officially need anything else in my life. And I can definitely see the continuity at the heart of this idea. There’s something cool, if not very eco-friendly, about throwing away used guns in the middle of an action scene. Like the lobby scene in the first Matrix movie, or that one guy from Overwatch who probably carries more spare guns than an American high school lost-and-found.

Why the weapons need to be presented as cards is a little less clear to me; Maybe if you can call yourself a “card battler” in any way, you’re eligible for a tax break from the indie gaming government. And the final ingredient is a visual novel element (spit). No, it’s ok I suppose. It’s good to bridge the intense speedrunning challenges with a little downtime with some anime characters, or more specifically, characters from a webcomic drawn by a freshman who watches too much anime. I don’t hate the story, it’s just a little…juvenile I suppose. You play an edgy dude in a suit with too many belts, voiced by the awesome Steve Blum with his cowboy bebop hat, and he was once part of a CRIME GANG that operated more along the lines of a best friends tree house club and Moor consisted of standard archetypes: lazy jerk boyfriend, hot girl, loud girl. A loud girl who exhibits the standard, slightly rash, student webcomic definition of insanity: liking violence, having staring eyes, and generally acting like a manic 12-year-old whose head was recently caught in a jello dispenser.

Still, at least the plot is pretty easy to understand. Our hero White, named after his favorite Beatles album, is dead and in purgatory, but he and his chromatic comrades are called to heaven for being like the best best friend crime tree house club ever, and they must also fend off an invasion of demons and whoever does the best job will remain in heaven as God’s personal Pied Piper. Lots of neon white gives me a Suda51 vibe. The upbeat tone, the visual style, the grandiose theming, the way each and every character is a super cool assassin, because Suda51 doesn’t seem to know there are other jobs, it’s just the story and the writing that makes these easy have an eye-rolling wannabe mood. Wannime is when something non-Japanese affects the look and feel of Japanese anime just to save you a trip to the glossary and when I looked up the developers to confirm they weren’t Japanese it turned out that the lead designer was Ben Esposito was the guy who did Donut County and a few other things, but who I remember mostly because his last name would make a really good name for a spaceship. “Captain, we have confirmation that the larvae of the Andromedan plague have completely overrun Esposito Station.”

But I digress. Just to reiterate, I didn’t mind the anime stuff, even though you can physically feel his constant desire to come to the beach episode at times. In fact, I felt motivated to find all the hidden gifts in each level to unlock each bonus talk. It’s not a complex relationship system; Each character only has one gift they like. If I personally got nineteen bottles of perfume, I’d take that as a dig at my personal hygiene, but it’s really piqued the love interest of hot girls, in multiple senses of the word. Not that I took the time to find hidden gifts and gold stars in each level just to wet the gusset of a fictional character. I did it because it was fun. Also, there are bonus challenge levels that you can only get from the relationship tracks, and that made it even more fun for me. FUN. F, U, N. Provides cheer or entertainment. Check it out, gaming industry. In this age of rampant Jiminy cockthroatism, I’ve made it clear time and time again that I have far more time for a game focused on doing one thing well than for bloated, over-designed jizz salads trying to both shooter players and Stealth to use players and single players and multiplayer and players who just want to sit in the corner and poke ants up their noses.

Neon White’s core gameplay loop isn’t complicated, but it’s fun and cathartic and challenging, and the visual novel bits don’t interrupt it so much as provide necessary pauses for you to catch your breath and have a Gatorade can slurp. And the game focuses well on the intended speedrunning experience. Maybe sometimes to an error. I might have appreciated a few slightly more freeform levels that focus more on shooting demons in style than following a highly specific linear path to the end, but Neon White wants to be more of a fast-paced puzzler than a shooter, and that is ok for me. If only more of us were so sure of what they want. Drop into my barber chair and say “number three buzz cut!” and I’m like “yes sir!” Better than games that come and go “Oh I dunno, make half my head short and the other half curly and spray paint the top part green and the bottom part your color of choice so you can have a personal feel of ownership of mine.” Haircut.” And then I’m like, “Bitch, don’t come in here with your complete indecisiveness and say it’s for my benefit. Don’t shove half a pineapple up my peehole and call it a juice cleanse.”