It seems like indie developer Thomas Brush sure has a taste for dark and melancholic vibes in his video games, with his previous release Pinstripe now joined by a new adventure that certainly embraces a degree of the macabre in its tone. Neversong is actually a remake of an old flash game that he previously created named Coma (that I admittedly have never played), with a successful Kickstarter campaign bringing this re-imagined release to life with a vast array of improvements over its initial iteration. It really makes for quite the engaging adventure too, especially with its grim narrative that feels equally fascinating and depressing in design.
Neversong tells the story of Peet, a young boy whose girlfriend Wren is kidnapped by a malicious creature named Doctor Smile after they stumble upon an abandoned asylum. Peet falls into a coma following these events and awakens with one goal: to rescue Wren. However, things are amiss upon his awakening, with his hometown in a seemingly desolate state and all of the adults missing. With the task of rescuing Wren firmly in his sights though, he ventures from the safety of home and delves further into his mysterious and hazardous surroundings, where danger is seemingly lurking around each and every corner…
Neversong’s narrative can be deceivingly light-hearted in places and players could easily be fooled into almost thinking it’s a children’s tale given that it’s narrated in rhyme… heck, even the children you encounter adhere to child-like tropes with their silly and sometimes snarky manners, making it easy to believe that they’re not living in a danger-filled environment with monsters prowling around in the shadows. However, there’s no denying that the game is filled to the brim with dark undertones that add a genuinely eerie vibe to the world, with plenty of small details to be found that flesh out the nightmare-like experience that Peet is going through. I don’t want to spoil anything here because it really offers a genuinely enjoyable (and sometimes horrifying) little tale, but just know that the storytelling is of a high quality and will certainly appeal to players who appreciate video games that are heavy on the macabre.
It’s also worth mentioning that Neversong tackles various mental health conditions through its characters and storytelling, though it’s all done in a tasteful way. Still, between that and some of its grimmer sights, it may prove triggering for some who play it.
Gameplay-wise, Neversong has a big focus on exploring its desolate yet beautiful world, with some Metroidvania-style elements woven into the experience to keep players on their toes as they try to find their way around. You’ll earn new abilities to progress through the game by unlocking songs, which when played on Wren’s piano give you a new method of traversal – these allow you to perform the likes of swinging on ropes, dashing quickly over gaps on a skateboard, or even hover with an umbrella to name a few, which are all incredibly useful when trying to get to those previously inaccessible areas. The game is a bit guilty of not always sign-posting where exactly you need to go in order to progress, but the fact that the level design is so good and the traversal skills you unlock are enjoyable to utilise ensures that it never feels frustrating galivanting across the world.
There are some neat environmental puzzles thrown into the mix too, some of which tie into the platforming to really put your quick-thinking skills to the test. Admittedly, there’s nothing too taxing in Neversong, but they add a nice break of pace to all of the running, jumping, and beating down of baddies with your baseball bat.
You’re certainly well-equipped for combat in Neversong, with Peet able to mash out an assortment of simple attacks to dish out some damage on his enemies. It’s directional-based too, which allows Peet to shift his momentum and attack his way towards enemies from all directions, meaning foes who’re just ahead of you or even above you are all easy to take out. Maybe it’s a bit TOO easy though, with the enemies of Neversong rarely offering any form of challenge, especially since they always drop health pickups when you take them out. It can leave combat feeling a little stale in places, with little to no effort needed to take out the standard enemies outside of simply mashing one button and picking up the health that’s dropped if you need it.
At least the boss battles are a heck of a lot more enjoyable though, with each utilising the different skills you unlock throughout the game and requiring some proper co-ordination to defeat. They all unleash an assortment of brutal attacks that you’ll have to figure out in order to evade them, whilst they’re also presented on a larger scale and feature some grotesque designs. They’re top notch and more than make up for the simplicity found in standard enemy encounters.
I would be remiss not to mention the visuals of Neversong, which match the incredibly high standard found in Pinstripe with their gorgeous landscapes and creative character designs. The best way to describe it would to be like you’re exploring a living-and-breathing Tim Burton-esque world, though Thomas Brush does deserve some credit for utilising a style of visuals that he has truly managed to make his own. Everything about the game’s visuals just look fantastic though, which when paired with the sombre but beautiful music and solid voice acting come together to make one expertly presented adventure.
Neversong’s adventure is grim and melancholic in design, but its alluringly dark story and beautiful world make it a fascinating one to experience.
However, the game doesn’t hit top marks in all aspects of its design, with the combat getting a little repetitive and a lack of direction breaking the pace in places. Thankfully, the narrative offers more than enough to keep players firmly hooked into its heart-wrenching tale, whilst the stunningly designed locales you explore and treacherous bosses you face off against ensure that Neversong remains engaging and entertaining all the way through until the end credits.
Developer: Atmos Games
Publisher: Serenity Forge
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC