(Angel Matrix; Annapurna Interactive; Switch, PC)
Timing is all as you wake from the dead and race towards a heavenly finish line, slaying demons en route, in this chaotic yet ingenious anime-inspired game
Speedrunning – for those yet to stray into the outer wilds of YouTube or Twitch – is the act of attempting to finish a video game or one of its constituent levels in the shortest time possible. Sometimes the challenge is physical: a player must consistently execute perfectly timed leaps, or attacks. Elsewhere the challenge is cerebral: you must divine shortcuts, or uncover reliable glitches that enable a player to finish, say, Elden Ring in under six minutes – 80 hours less than it takes the average person. The best speedrunners are treated like serious athletes, their videos watched by millions. When a world record that has stood for years is broken, it makes headlines in the speedrunning community, a group that has its own dedicated websites, interpersonal dramas and annual charity marathons.
Neon White is a product of speedrunning and designed explicitly to serve that community – although this isn’t immediately obvious from its premise. You play as White, a masked protagonist who has woken as an amnesiac after their death. White has been chosen by God to compete in a kind of purgatorial Olympiad, slaying errant demons while tearing towards the finish line in a slew of tightly designed courses. The winner of the contest will earn a spot in heaven. The backstory is torn straight from the pages of manga (White is voiced by Steve Blum, the 62-year-old fan-beloved voice actor who plays Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop), but it is broadly incidental. This is a game built for human competition outside the narrative: your times are logged on real online leaderboards, where the quickest in the world compete for domination.