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The video game format is, by its very nature, an amalgamation of multiple art forms: character and environment design, animation, music, sound design, story-telling, and most importantly, player interactivity via gameplay mechanics. Logically, then, a good video game is one in which all these elements stand tall on their own, but together, successfully result in an experience that’s bigger, and better, than the sum of its parts. But what holds these very distinct elements together without it feeling like a messy mish-mash of random ideas? 

Spoiler: it’s the theme, the overarching narrative, the message the game is trying to resonate within the player.

In other words, narrative cohesion within the gameplay, the presentation, and the message the game is trying to get across is what makes a good game truly great.

Over the years, many games have attempted to tackle heavy themes like depression, anxiety, or, as the subject of this review does, grief over the loss of a loved one. Celeste’s beautifully elegant depiction of anxiety and self-hatred, Night in the Woods’ exploration of self-identity, anger issues, and dissociation, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice’s portrayal of paranoia and schizophrenia… the list goes on. Needless to say, quite a few of them have succeeded in their specific missions, and they serve as shining examples that prove the limitless potential for storytelling in videogames. 

How does Neversong, developed by Atmos Games and published by Serenity Forge, measure up against the high bar set by other, similarly-themed games? Let’s find out. 


Neversong is a side-scrolling puzzle game with elements of Metroidvania and some basic combat thrown in for good measure. However, the focus here is clearly on the story, so let’s start with that.

Story & Narrative

You play as Peet, an orphan who has just woken from a coma (or has he?). See, Peet and his girlfriend Wren had been out playing, as usual, one fateful day when they wandered into an abandoned asylum. All of a sudden, Wren was kidnapped by a creepy white-faced man, Dr. Smile, and Peet promptly fainted and went into a coma from the shock. Sometime later, he awakes to find that Wren is still missing and all the adults of the town have gone looking for her, leaving only the children behind. And so you embark on your quest to save her. 

Before Neversong even starts, you’re greeted with this disclaimer:


And so, understandably, I was excited and intrigued,  mentally preparing myself for something deeply dark and upsetting.

The game takes place in Redwind Village where, as I said, the parents have gone missing after attempting to rescue Wren, and so only the kids are left behind. As you meet and interact with these weird kids (not one ‘normal’ one in the bunch), you get the sense that they have their own stories to tell. In fact, Simeon’s body dysmorphia becomes in and of itself a gameplay mechanic, a means to solve the puzzle leading to the first boss fight. There’s another kid who seems to have daddy issues and a violent streak, and one who’s obsessed with parkour, but none of them really have a chance to shine. Still, these interactions are consistently fun and entertaining despite, or rather because of, the strange writing and offbeat sense of humor, which permeates through the whole game. I found myself looking forward to meeting and interacting with these wacky characters, and wish they were integrated more into the main plot. 

There are no cutscenes, instead, the story is told primarily through narrated poems, accompanied by short vignettes illustrating these poems, which are very well done. They’re consistently creepy and disturbing thanks to the simple but effective character design of Dr. Smile, and the eerie, spine-chilling distortion and sound design over the top-notch voice-acting.

However, as the credits rolled, I was left extremely underwhelmed, not to mention, confused. Not wanting to spoil anything, I won’t get into it, but suffice to say that it was incredibly disappointing and ended abruptly, and didn’t really make much sense. The punch in the gut I was waiting for the whole game never showed up, and the final reveal was substantially unsatisfying and as I said, confusing. Neither did I find the story moving, nor did I find it emotionally upsetting (unless being disappointed counts), and it came across half-baked to me, which, after so many years of development and delays, is not justifiable.

In fact, the Atmos’ previous game, Pinstripe, pulled off this same concept – in that case, it was a man who lost his daughter due to alcoholism and had to literally go through hell to rescue her – much better in my opinion, though the gameplay wasn’t as solid as it is here. Come to think of it, the premise is extremely similar to Pinstripe, but lacking the emotional depth in its execution.  


Gameplay & Mechanics

Speaking of the gameplay, Neversong can generally be divided into combat, environmental puzzles, and boss fights. 

The combat in Neversong is extremely basic. You’re armed with only a baseball bat and have a basic attack that comes along it. That’s pretty much it as far as weapons go. All you have to do is stay a safe distance away from the enemy (bumping into it hurts you), and swing the bat at it. However, this simple mechanic is pulled off wonderfully, it feels fantastic to play: thanks to the camera shake, the mini time-stop, and the rewarding visual feedback when your attack connects with an enemy, this simple attack somehow feels really powerful, you can feel the weight behind it. 


Still, that doesn’t make up for the very shallow nature of the combat. But that can be forgiven if the platforming makes up for it. Thankfully, the platforming aspect does have a bit more to it: over the course of the game, you get access to a swinging mechanic, a glide mechanic, and one other ability that I don’t want to spoil because I was so pleasantly surprised when I got it. Each of these abilities is exploited in a few environmental puzzles and also serve as strategies in boss battles. Even though they’re not really exploited to their fullest, it’s fun and compelling to use them. 

Speaking of boss battles, Neversong has about 4 of them, and all of them, though visually interesting,  are overly simplistic, sometimes laughably so, and it was neither challenging to figure out the gimmick of the boss (just use your most recently acquired ability) nor to execute it. This is where the Metroidvania element comes into play, as each boss battle awards you with a 5-note piano tune, which when replicated at the piano back at Wren’s house, opens up a doorway to a chest with a new ability hidden within, which in turn gives you access to the next area with another boss. 

There are, like I said, some fun environmental puzzles that make use of the various abilities you acquire, but again, they’re not very challenging or memorable, and as far as I recall there’s no puzzle that forces you to use these 3 different abilities in tandem with each other, which would’ve made for some compelling puzzles. Instead, each puzzle only makes use of a single mechanic, and it’s not hard to figure out and in turn, not satisfying to figure out.

Also, while all the boss battles are easy, the last boss battle was especially disappointing and anticlimactic, probably the worst of them all. It was repetitive, provided almost no challenge whatsoever, and went on for far too long. Dr. Smile is hyped up from the very beginning of the game, and so I was very excited going into it, and that made it all the more disappointing. 

However, this is, first and foremost, a narrative game, and so the gameplay is only meant to be a vehicle for the story, it’s not necessarily intended to be incredibly deep. It’s unfortunate then, that the narrative, as previously stated, failed to resonate with me in any meaningful way. 

Visuals & Sound

So the narrative is disappointing and the gameplay, while solid, is nothing to write home about. Thankfully, the beautiful visuals of Neversong do go a long way and almost make up for the previously mentioned shortcomings.  The rich, detailed environments, the great use of lighting, and the elegant orange-and-blue-themed color scheme come together to form an extremely pretty world begging to be explored. The Night in the Woods style map, with enterable houses and talkative NPCs, was a joy to traverse, taking in the sights and sounds. The monster designs were creepy and interesting as well, though the basic enemies – spiders – are par for the course, nothing innovative. 

The piano-centric soundtrack does a great job of setting the atmosphere as well – being upbeat and exciting, or threatening and creepy as and when needed, and again reminded me of Night in the Woods. Though unlike NitW, it’s not something I’d listen to outside the game, the soundtrack is suitably effective and works well during gameplay. The voice-acting is superb, especially that of Dr. Smile, and the sound-engineering is stellar throughout, making for some genuinely creepy, spine-chilling moments. In fact, the opening prologue level is one of the best parts of the game for sure and seems to be inspired by PT, the Silent Hills demo that came out a few years ago. The tense atmosphere, the sense of anxiety, and the mounting stress in this prologue are masterfully executed, I only wish that were the tone for the whole game. 

Anyway, the visual and sound presentation is definitely where this game shines the brightest and so, if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find a lot to love here. 


Though Neversong is an enjoyable game and worth playing, it falls short in the narrative department, which is pretty bad for a game that claims to be narratively focused. Still, the gameplay is solid enough (though nothing exemplary) and the fantastic visuals paired with the superb sound design are pretty persuasive reasons to give this one a shot. It’s a very short game, taking 2-4hours, it can be beaten in a single sitting, and there’s not much replayability, save for a few Steam achievements. 

Neversong comes out today, May 20th, on Steam (though it was launched early on Apple Arcade, on May 1st, to the justifiable chagrin of its Kickstarter backers who had to wait an additional 2 weeks to get their Steam keys) and is scheduled to come out on other consoles in the future.

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