Neon White’s Enemy Designs Make Its Fast Pace Possible
Speedrunning scenes pop up around most games, given enough time. But Neon White encourages players to attempt to speedrun it from the moment they start parkouring through the first level.
You immediately encounter shining floors (water? ice? ) that boost your speed. A stopwatch constantly runs at the top of the screen, keeping track of all your minute successes and mistakes. At the end of each run, medals ranging from bronze to platinum are doled out in recognition of your time. To proceed to the next set of levels, you need to hit a certain number of gold metals on the ones that came before. If you want to achieve in Neon White — to borrow a phrase from a gaming icon — you gotta go fast.
Succeeding at Neon White means finishing levels as quickly as possible. That's something the game drills into your head with each new level. While it encourages speed, it doesn't require perfection. I bounced off the similarly parkour-focused Ghostrunner — despite liking its cyberpunk setting — because each level required exacting precision and (in my case) dozens of attempts to progress.
It would be easy for Neon White to follow a similar path. Instead, all of its design decisions are aimed toward getting you to maximum speed and keeping you moving. The game isn't effortless, but playing it feels smooth and seamless.
One of its central mechanics is key to its sense of speed. All of the weapon discard abilities expand your character's traversal options and usually make you move faster, too. The shotgun's ability slingshots you to your target. The sniper sends you flying swiftly straight in the direction you fire. The uzi causes you to ground pound, sending you falling through the air at terminal velocity. The machine gun launches a bomb that blows up any enemies in the vicinity — allowing you take out whole groups at a time — and will send you rocketing away if you're near the blast. All of these abilities are designed to get you where you need to go, quicker, either by eliminating enemies in a snap or by increasing your speed.
Those traversal skills give you the abilities you need to go fast. But, Neon White's enemy design deserves credit for how it enables you to think fast and read the level quickly. Each enemy has a memorable look, a distinct shape, and is color-coded to signify which weapon card they will drop when defeated. Before you're anywhere near an opponent, you know what to expect.
For example, enemies whose bodies are all black with no color won't drop any weapons at all. They also generally fire pink projectiles, which have no color match in the weapons deck. On the other hand, enemies that glow or emit colorful light all have cards with a corresponding color in the deck. You don't gain those cards until you're in a level with the enemies that will provide it. Once you gain access to the shotgun, you meet the enemies that will give it to you: disembodied heads that, after locking on to your position, will gradually begin glowing red, from bottom to top, as if a meter is filling up.
This visual design smartly tells you a) that they drop shotgun cards, which are a matching shade of red, and b) how long they will charge up before they are ready to fire. For another example, the impish gargoyle emits a green light which is visible from a distance, so you can begin to prepare your next move in advance. The gargoyle drops the green uzi card which gives you the stomp ability when discarded. You can use this on an explosive barrel to send you flying, or on red barriers to gain access to a lower floor.
Developer Angel Matrix's decision to make enemies recognizable from a battlefield away enables you to begin thinking about how you will dispatch them as soon as they're visible. It also gives you the opportunity to strategize a route forward so you can immediately make progress once you gain the ability they drop. Speedrunners often appear to just have really fast reflexes and, sure, having the ability to react quickly to unexpected situations is important, but success in Neon White has little to do with reacting quickly and much more to do with thinking three moves ahead. Luckily, the game is designed to help you do just that.
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