Neon White Is Designed With Speedrunning In Mind, But Isn't Just For Pro Speedrunners
Neon White blends together first-person shooting and deckbuilding to create an experience geared towards achieving the best possible score in quick, self-contained levels.
Despite being in first-person and featuring gunplay, Neon White is not a first-person shooter. The game isn't a roguelike or deck-builder either, despite featuring a cyclical run-based formula and card-based combat. According to its developer, Ben Esposito, Neon White is a "speedrunning" game.
"[Neon White] is structured like a speedrunning game in the sense that you have a bunch of levels and to proceed in the game--to continue in the in-game competition so to speak, in the fiction of the game--you have to achieve certain medals or certain status by playing the levels faster," Esposito told GameSpot. "So you play a set and you survive through them and then you revisit them and you start to pick them apart and start to play them faster and get more familiar with them."
"I'm a little reluctant to say it's exactly like a speedrunning game because I think that to a lot of people, that scares them a little--it evokes the extreme dedication of a Twitch streamer. But I think it's an accurate description because [Neon White] is structured where the main goal is to get faster at it. But the game is designed to onboard you into speedrunning in a pretty gentle way if you haven't done it before."
In Neon White, you play as the titular character, a demon from Hell who's competing against other demons for a chance to ascend to Heaven. You race through levels, killing enemies in a competition of skill and speed. With each enemy you defeat, a card is added to your hand. Each card has two effects depending on whether you use it or discard it. As an example, a card may give you a shotgun attack if you use it, or send you hurtling forward as a fireball if you discard it.
Neon White is composed of over 100 levels, each of which is about 20 seconds long, though Esposito said that a few of the later ones are a bit longer. Getting higher scores is part of Neon White's progression but there's also a bit of a visual novel component to the game as well, where you can befriend and even enter relationships with some of your fellow demons, learning more about their mysterious pasts--as well as your own. To raise your relationship status, you'll need to find gifts which are hidden within levels. So sometimes you'll replay a level not to get a better score, but to find a secret pathway to a hidden gift you missed the first time through.
"There's a gift in every single [level]," Esposito said. "The gifts are a totally different way of thinking about each level. Sometimes, what you have to do to solve the puzzle of 'How do I use my resources that are available in this level to get to that strange part and collect the gift?' That then feeds into the downtime where you can give that gift to a character. Then you'll progress along their relationship. You'll also get side quests too, which are like bonus levels. So it's hopefully like a cycle where you're playing the levels and getting more story content, which leads to more levels."
Going the extra mile to get high scores and improve your relationship with others will reward you with a more comprehensive ending. "I don't want to give the impression that there's like multiple endings," Esposito said. "The way the game works is that there is a main story that's happening. However, you can affect the ultimate outcome. There is a true ending and functionally the way the relationships work in the game is that they, as you deepen them and you unlock more stuff, you find out the backstories behind everyone and you find out the relationships everyone used to have when they were alive. The idea is that there's this second layer to the story that you could have completely ignored. But if you are interested in digging, you'll find a lot more going on between all the characters, which will then ultimately lead to you getting the true ending. But you have to dig for it if you want it and you don't want it. That's fine."
And to that end, Esposito doesn't want folks to stress out playing Neon White--you don't have to perfect everything if you just want to get to the end credits. But the goal of playing the game is to get faster, and there are systems in place to help you do that if you're not a pro speedrunner. "We have a system called Insight whereas if you're grinding a level and not getting better medals, we'll start unlocking more features for you to ease you in, like, 'Hey, here's how you should play this,'" said Esposito.
"If we've done our job, if you keep revisiting those levels, you will get to that level of skill because the game is trying its best to give you the right information at the right time to keep nudging you towards becoming faster and faster. Then once you get the platinum medal, then we reveal the global leaderboard for that level. Then you can realize how bad you actually were."
Neon White is scheduled to launch for Switch and PC this winter.
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