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Neon White review: Cutting to the quick

(Switch/PC) ***** Age: 15+

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A whole community has sprung up around the concept of speedrunning games – completing their storyline as quickly as possible using skill, luck and exploits that not even the makers intended.

There’s even a charity called Games Done Quick that raises money from live-streams of speedrunners smashing records for game playthroughs. But even now only a few developers actively court speedrunners, presumably in part because encouraging players to finish their games rapidly is viewed as not good for business.

The makers of Neon White beg to differ. This compulsive hybrid of parkour and first-person shooting is designed as a hyperkinetic race of twitchy reactions. The game’s entire raison d’etre focuses on repeated playthroughs at high speed, shaving seconds off level times with tricks and alternative paths.

The back-story tries to set up the premise for this frenetic series of platforming time trials, a vaguely amusing anime-style yarn about four demons competing to get into heaven. But too often your thumb will hover over the skip button as the flirty four trade jaunty banter in the cut-scenes between missions.

Your impatience to jump back into the speedruns testifies to the ingenuity of the level designs coupled with the injection of a card-based ability modifier. You might complete a specific run in 45 seconds – sprinting, jumping and shooting your way around an arena – only to notice that the leaderboards prove it can be done in just 15. It seems impossible but careful exploration and sometime a few in-game hints reveal shortcuts that open new routes while weapons can sometimes both eliminate enemies and provide a jump boost.

Those weapons spawn via a card system, scattered collectibles that upgrade your firepower but also deliver a special ability such as a double jump or a grenade hop when they are discarded. Early levels demand no more than a few well-timed leaps and shots to complete but the complexity ramps up pretty damn fast. Soon you’re executing a dazzling succession of precise platforming tricks involving weapon discards, jumps and dashes. It’s like pulling off Tony Hawk’s most demanding feats but without a skateboard under you.

Repeated playthroughs generate new goals in each level, enabling you to further the lightweight story or achieve gold medals. Mostly, though, you’re pushing yourself to discover just what perfect sequence of moves will prune your times to something close to those of the leaderboard gods.

Clearly, if you don’t enjoy repetition in the pursuit of the fastest speedrun, Neon White will just feel frustrating. But like a racer chasing a perfect lap in Gran Turismo or a Super Mario fan nailing a flawless tour of World 1-1, there’s no beating that high when you achieve your nirvana.

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