In darkened places we must be,
To save my true love taken away from me,
The land now ruled by children friends,
Face Dr. Smile fore Wren’s life does end.
When I start a game, and it comes with a warning that the content may not be suitable for all audiences, it intrigues me. I’ve covered several games recently that use dark themes and taboo subjects in its core. Each has touched upon the delicate situation in a caring manner. Can my latest review get the right mix of emotional content and psychological scares? Atmos Games and Serenity Forge have created a Tim Burton inspired adventure title. Neversong is a touching affair. The gameplay mechanics centre around the thoughts that haunt all humans, guilt! The guilt of not doing enough, the guilt of failing someone close to us, and the guilt of not being as good as we want to be.
You control 12-year-old Peet, he’s a frail and weak boy whose life is grey. He has little to hope for, that is until he meets his ray of light Wren. The pair becomes inseparable; she is perfect in his eyes, and she broadens his horizon. Then comes the fateful day, Wren is snatched by a stranger from the shadows. Does Peet save his girlfriend? He isn’t like her; she is strong and brave, and he pales in comparison. He collapses and ends in a coma. This is where the story begins. Can you solve the problems and reach your beloved before it’s too late?
Your beloved taken from your side,
In a coma you dare not hide,
Dr. Smile has a soul pitch black,
You’d give it all to get her back.
You awaken from your coma and discover that all the adults have left the village in search of Wren. The kids are left to fend for themselves, they now run the streets and luckily they are on your side. You must work your way through several locations, solving problems on your way. The gameplay revolves around a singular piano, and the songs that the couple played. New usable items are unlocked as each tune is learned. These will help you hit the hideous monsters, climb chains, skate, and float upon high. All these objects help you get one step closer to the evil Dr. Smile, but will you be able to get to Wren in time?
You experience some horrendous sights on your journey of discovery. It truly is the stuff of nightmares! The simple and immature nature of each of the bosses reflects the naivety of childhood. As you progress through the game, the fog of uncertainty clears. The developer’s wanted to show the death of youthfulness, and the redemption after losing it. It’s about discovering who you really are, deep down – who you were when you were a kid. Shown perfectly with the well worded dialogue, and the imagery that’s used throughout. At key moments in the story, a wholesome yet creepy narrator speaks in verse. His rhyming words describe the scene in eerie details. The haunting tones will send shivers down your spine. They accompany dark, monochromatic images that would be suited to an evil tome. The detail was glorious, yet simple.
Peet’s body is weak, yet heart is strong,
Monster’s he must face, puzzles he can’t get wrong,
His own future, and fate he must fend,
Dr. Smile’s reign of terror must end.
Every element of this title works together to create this wonderful game. The imagery and game mechanics come back to Peet’s memories of Wren. He is fighting to keep hold of them, though he knows that he needs to let them go, and wake up to the reality of his situation.
The art style is minimalist, with distinct lines and cartoon imagery. The characters all have limited expressions, most are shown with limited features. So all their emotion is conveyed through the dialogue. The backgrounds all have a similar feel because of the dark colours and tones that are used. The monsters are bizarre, evil, and nightmarish. After the first, I believed it couldn’t get weirder, and then the developers took it up a gear. Bird-like grannies, giant underground caterpillars, and more await you. You will be creeped out and confused on what is a surreal experience.
I loved the audio used throughout. The acting for all the characters was heartwarming, amusing, and dark. The aforementioned cutscenes were fantastic and moved the story along perfectly. The background music varied depending on location, and it kept the action fresh. The lighthearted audio wasn’t always in keeping with the game theme, but I liked how it lightened the mood. The game’s premise centres around the couple’s love of music, and in particular their songs. This was an opportunity the developers didn’t build upon. The songs could have been ever present, slowly fading as Peet moved closer to the end. This would have shown him moving away from his past and becoming a new person. This was shown in a visual aspect, but not so well through sound.
The control system was a bugbear for me. Most of the puzzles you encounter needed very specific movement. The accuracy of the analogue stick wasn’t precise enough to make this an easy task. This combined with the over sensitive nature of the directional control, and it was a bit of a problem. I soon became frustrated with the issues. Failing puzzles, or being hit because of a lack of skill is one thing, but because of poor controls it was unacceptable. I worked around the issues I encountered; but it took the shine off the end product for me. It was a shame, as there is very little not to like about Neversong.
This journey through the darkness, and madness takes little over 2 hours. Not that you have explored everything to see, but that’s to get to its natural conclusion. If you wish to mark off the 100% completion, you have some challenging moments ahead of you. The achievement list isn’t large, but it will make you come back for more. You must complete the game twice, finish a speedrun, and you are not to die, or be hit. If this wasn’t hard enough, the developers also want you to collect “Coma Cards”. These allow you to customise Peet’s outfit. You will find them in crates, vases, and other secret locations. Looking at the unlock percentages, no-one has unlocked them all. Can you be the first?
This sinister title left me wanting to play it all in one hit. I didn’t want to put it down. As much as I feared Dr. Smile, I was desperate to get close to him. When I glimpsed at him carrying Wren, I’d rush in his direction, not knowing what I’d do if I caught up. No matter how much you plan, and how close you are to freeing your beloved, Dr. Smile is always one step ahead. This was a game that I’ve wanted to play for a long time, I stayed away from spoilers, and I’m glad I did. It’s a superb experience, even if it makes you feel sad and drained after you reach the end. I’d 100% recommend that you buy this game and try it out now. We all must evolve and leave our past behind us. Look deep into your soul, and remember what happened, but don’t let it define your future.
The end is near. Did Peet win?
Can he discard the guilt of his most painful sin?
Will Dr. Smile consume his prey?
Find out by buying a copy and beginning to play!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 7/10
A dark and disturbing journey of realisation. Can Peet save his beloved from Dr. Smile? A platform puzzle title, which touches upon serious and taboo subjects.
- Stunning graphics.
- Atmospheric audio.
- Excellent voice-over acting.
- Compelling script writing.
- Delivers a tough subject in a touching way.
- The controls are too sensitive.
- The achievement list is too difficult.
- I wanted more from the story, as it was so good.