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 also it’s the most insidious work of evil to ever be squeezed out from the black thorny anus of BeelzeBlizzard. Sounds like you already know how you feel about it, viewers. Why should I make myself miserable all week just to rephrase established general opinion through a lens of dick jokes and progressively changing the title into something irreverent. Tell you what, let’s just list off all the things I would have called it right now: Diablo Immortal, Diablo Immoral, Diablo Impoverishing, Diablo Income Statement, Diablo In A Gadda Da Vida Baby. Now let’s move on and try to spread a little much needed positivity instead. And you know what makes me feel positive: new indie games I hadn’t heard of before but really like. The Escapist has a communal list of games for review that I always try to steal the juiciest carrots from before the 3MR guys sober up on Monday morning, and Neon White caught my eye when it described itself as a first person speedrunning shooter. And I harbour a growing interest in speedrunners, mainly because I feel like someone needs to be keeping an eye on these people before there’s an unexpected Mountain Dew shortage and they burn down all our cities.

And after playing it, yes I suppose you could call Neon White a first person shooter in that it’s first person and you shoot things, but the enemies can’t move and have all the dynamic characterisation of the hurdles on a sprinting track. Really it’s a first person speed puzzle platformer, where in each level the challenge is to deduce the quickest route to splatter all the mandatory kills and hit the exit. The unique gameplay mechanic is that you pick up gun cards that you either shoot in that usual boring way of guns or throw away to use some kind of traversal power unique to that gun – the pistol grants a double jump, the rifle a midair dash, the rocket launcher has a grappling hook which means that if it also dispensed prawn cocktail flavour skips from its hilt then I would officially need nothing else in my life. And I can definitely see the through line at the core of this idea. There’s something intrinsically cool, if not terribly environmentally friendly, about throwing spent guns away in the middle of an action scene. Like in the lobby scene in the first Matrix film, or that one dude from Overwatch who presumably has more spare guns on him than an American high school lost property department.

Why the guns need to be presented as cards I’m a little less clear on; maybe if you can somehow describe yourself as a “card battler” then you’re entitled to a tax break from the government of indie games. And the final ingredient is a visual novel element, (spit). No, it’s fine, I suppose. It’s good to space out the intense speedrunning challenges with a bit of downtime hanging out with some anime characters, or more accurately, characters from a webcomic drawn by a freshman college student who watches too much anime. I don’t hate the story, it’s just a little bit… juvenile, I suppose. You play an edgy dude in a suit with too many belts voiced by the great Steve Blum wearing his Cowboy Bebop hat, and he was once part of a CRIME GANG that operated more along the lines of a best friends treehouse club, and consisted of bog standard archetypes: slacker idiot friend, hot girl, loud girl. Loud girl displaying the usual slightly ill-advised student webcomic definition of insanity: liking violence, having starey eyes and generally acting like a manic twelve year old who recently got their head trapped in a jelly belly dispenser.

Still, at least the plot’s pretty easy to grasp. Our hero, White, named after his favourite Beatles album, is dead and in purgatory but he and his chromatic comrades are summoned to Heaven because they’re like the best crime-doing best friends treehouse club ever you guys and they’re needed to fight off an invasion of demons and whoever does the best job gets to stay in heaven as God’s personal in house ratcatcher. A lot of Neon White gives me a Suda51 vibe. The upbeat tone, the visual style, the grandiose theming, the way every single character is a super cool assassin because Suda51 is apparently unaware that other jobs exist, it’s just the story and writing that has that slightly eye-roll-inducing wannime vibe. Wannime is when something non-Japanese affects the appearance 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 the lead designer was Ben Esposito, the dude who made Donut County and a couple of other things, but who I mainly remember because his surname would be a really good name for a spaceship. “Captain, we have confirmation that the Andromedan Plague larvae have completely overrun Esposito Station.”

But I digress. Just to repeat myself, I didn’t mind the anime stuff even when at times you can fucking physically sense its constant hankering to get to the beach episode. In fact I felt motivated to find all the hidden presents in each level to unlock every bonus conversation. It’s not a complex relationship system; each character only has one gift that they like. Personally if I were given nineteen bottles of perfume, I’d take that as a dig at my personal hygiene, but it really made hot girl love interest open up, in several senses of the phrase. Not that I took time out to find hidden presents and gold star every level just for the sake of moistening a fictional character’s gusset. I did it because it was fun to do. Plus, there are bonus challenge levels you can only get from the relationship tracks and that meant even more fun for me. FUN. F, U, N. Provides mirth or amusement. Look it up, games industry. In this age of rampant Jiminy Cockthroatism I’ve made it clear over and over again that I have far more time for a game that focusses on doing one thing well than I do for bloated overdesigned spunksalads that try to simultaneously cater to shooter players and stealth players and single players and multiplayers and players who just want to sit in the corner pushing 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 breaks to let you get your breath back and quaff a Gatorade. And the game is nicely focussed on its intended speedrunning experience. Perhaps to a fault at times. I might have appreciated a few slightly more freeform levels that focus more on stylish demon shooting than on following one highly specific linear path to the end, but Neon White wants to be more speed puzzle game than shooter and that’s fine with me. Would that more of us could be so certain of what they want. Plonk yourself down in my barber’s chair and say “Number three buzz cut!” and I’m like “Yes sir!” Better than games that come in and go “Oh I don’t know, make half my head short and the other half curly and spray paint the top part green and the bottom part the colour of your choice so that you have a sense of personal ownership of my 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 pisshole and call it a juice cleanse.”

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