Neon White sounds like a lot. As you may have seen from tonight's Annapurna Interactive Showcase, it's a speedrunning first-person shooter where you use decks of cards that represent weapons to stop demons invading heaven. It also has dating sim aspects where you can chat and have a nice time with the other Neons (the demon slayers you're sort of working with). Better yet, it's made by the developers of Donut County, and designer Ben Esposito tells me that massive tonal change was because he wanted to go "apeshit".
"After working on Donut County for six years, I was trying to make something for people who'd never played a game before," he tells me. "But at the end of it, I just wanted to go apeshit. So we went from, let's make a game for everyone, to let's make a game that's for a really specific audience."
As you can probably tell from the new gameplay footage from Annapurna Interactive's showcase, Neon White is a speedy game with big influences from anime, and games like Persona. In it, you'll have to fight and jump your way through levels using weapons cards that can either be used as weapons, or discarded to perform special moves. It's the sort of game for people who already like this style of fast-paced action, moving away from the more accessible nature of Donut County.
"With Donut County, I wanted to make something almost free of genre expectations and tropes. When you make a game like [Neon White], people who play this sort of thing know how to move around, they know how it works," Esposito says. "We want to get out of the player's way because they know what they're doing, but we want to get players into the speedrunning aspect, and point them towards how to get all of the content out of it."
Neon White isn't going to be some super hardcore game if you've never tried speedrunning, though. It's designed to be an entry point into that style of game, while also catering to fans of this sort of thing. To that end, Esposito tells me there are always two paths to completing a level: one more intended way, and another shortcut that you'll need to do some smart thinking to get around. Of course, being a speedrunning game, he knows it won't be long until even those shortcuts are considered longcuts.
I was curious how the whole "dating sim" aspect fits into the game, given how much seems to be going on in other areas. He tells me that the team wanted a part of the game where players could chill out for a bit, because despite how much he loves speedrunning games, even he can get burned out on them.
"Neon White is a game that's really intense to think about because it's so high energy, so we wanted a whole other half of the game so that when you've had enough, there's the story and the characters to explore," he says. "In every level then, you get another goal in that you can look for a secret hidden gift that you can give to one of the characters. It almost turns it into a puzzle game: how can I use my cards to get that gift? It's a weird genre mashup, but to me it makes perfect sense."
When I first saw the trailer, I honestly wasn't too sure this game was for me. But this chaotic energy and tonal whiplash from Donut County has me intrigued. I think Neon White is one to watch, and you can keep your eyes peeled for it on Steam and Nintendo Switch this winter.