Neon White, the speedrunning first-person parkour shooter from Donut County developer Ben Esposito’s new studio, Angel Matrix, is extremely good. Its super short levels (most will take under a minute to clear as intended) and absolutely banging Machine Girl soundtrack give it a delightful sense of speed that can’t be found anywhere else. From a game design standpoint, it might be the cleanest and most refined project released this year.
The dialogue, on the other hand, is a little rough around the edges. Okay, that’s not entirely fair. The dialogue is clunky, clumsy, cringe-worthy and simply deliriously horny. But that’s not necessarily bad writing. In fact, it’s actually very true to Neon White’s inspirations.
Neon White borrows generously from a pre-Toonami era of English-dubbed anime. In every element from the delightfully silly narrative setup (the main characters, per the very anime opening, are “sinners plucked from hell to do God’s dirty work”) to the pitch-perfect casting of one of the medium’s most legendary voice actors: Cowboy Bebop’s Steve Blum. Neon White wears its inspiration proudly on its sleeve (Esposito confirmed as much in an interview with Goomba Stomp’s Marc Kaliroff). And, as an effective homage to that bygone era of anime, it would have been deeply unfair for Neon White to be anything other than cringe-inducing.
Like the shows it borrows from, Neon White can be a little jarring if you’re not on its wavelength. It can seem a little obsessed with which big-breasted, tropey anti-heroine its doofus protagonist will inevitably end up smooching, and the flashback-driven backstories of the ensemble cast can start to feel a little exhaustingly familiar. But those are features, not bugs. Neon White is a warm blanket for the weirdos who came up on bizarre and under-advertised shows in an era where “Japanimation” was still a word people used unironically.
During my playthrough, I was frequently reminded of long childhood nights spent watching shows whose names have long since departed from my memory with my older cousin, who had a seemingly endless supply of obscure DVDs procured from various conventions and eBay listings. Were any of them good? I couldn’t tell you. Is Neon White even good? If you have any fondness for the kinds of stories it’s borrowing from, then yes, certainly.
Those who delight in the majesty of ‘90s-’00s anime know exactly what that era had to offer: it was clunky, clumsy, cringe-worthy and simply deliriously horny. That was the entire appeal, and that appeal endures in Neon White. The long-standing marketing line for Neon White has been that it’s a game “by freaks, for freaks.” The audience for this game is the kind of person who takes pride in the cringe of it all, and Neon White caters to that audience stunningly.
Sorrel Kerr-Jung is a sophomore studying virtual reality game development at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Sorrel by tweeting her at @sorrelkj.