This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Neon White.
"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've 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 harbor 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 characterization 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 mid-air dash, the rocket launcher has a grappling hook, which means that if it also dispensed prawn cocktail-flavored Skips from its hilt, then I would officially need nothing else in my life.
And I can definitely see the throughline 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. [sound of hocking a loogie and spitting it] 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 favorite 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 rat catcher.
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 the 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 Cockthroat-ism, I've made it clear over and over again that I have far more time for a game that focuses on doing one thing well than I do for bloated, overdesigned spunk-salads 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 focused on its intended speedrunning experience, perhaps to a fault at times; I might've appreciated a few slightly more free-form 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 3 buzzcut!", 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 color 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 piss-hole and call it a juice cleanse."
- Can't spell "purgatory" without "gat": Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Also Neon Yellow was named after his favourite Power Ranger and Neon Red was named after her favourite character from The Shawshank Redemption
- It's just hard to find prawn cocktail flavour Skips outside the UK okay