There are times when you find yourself playing through a game, in which a curveball is thrown at you, as you quickly realise that your initial impressions are completely changed. That happens with Neversong. You see, my first impressions here were that I was spending time playing a quirky kid’s platformer; one that was a hell of a lot of fun with great artwork but fundamentally came across as quite two-dimensional. But how wrong I was. In fact, Neversong is complex, unusual, and unique – with its own style and composition bringing the whole experience together. And just to round things out, there is also a subtle tale of sorrow and a hidden message for us all.
The story follows a young 12-year-old boy called Peet (who you play as), who lives in a village with his best friend, Wren. While out exploring they stumble upon an asylum, as a horrible monster called Dr. Smile snatches Wren away. From there, you wake up alone in a dusty room. Your journey then commences, seeing you travelling across the weird world of Red Wind Village and beyond. You meet individuals and you fight bosses to capture songs; songs that you can play to unlock new abilities on a piano at your home. The thing is, you need to get Wren back, but along the way the story takes a very dark turn, and the truth isn’t at all what you think it originally was.
If you had to force me to make a bit of a comparison I would have to say the tone of the Neversong world has a very Tim Burton nature to it. He is always good at mixing children’s fairytales with weird darkness and Neversong does this as well, doing it with delight. The story is a very good one, and utterly surprising, especially with a twist at the end which I promise I’m not going to spoil. The writing of the characters and the Dr. Seuss poetry in the cutscenes work brilliantly.
In terms of gameplay and Neversong provides a solid mixture of styles to play with. First of all the game is set as a 2D platformer, one with superbly drawn backgrounds. You start the game with just the basic commands of a jump, run, and the ability to use items, but moving forward you discover additional skills as you progress, letting you get on and defeat bosses. It isn’t long before you are soon able to attack with a bat, hover with an umbrella Mary Poppins-style, swing on ropes, and even skateboard at certain points in the gameplay. These additions and skill-building elements are a nice touch as you feel Neversong is constantly surprising.
In terms of what you have to do then this is where Neversong falls down a little: it can at times feel a bit aimless and confusing about what is next needed to be actioned, especially when you start. After the prologue though you are thrust into an almost open world where you have a few pathways open to explore, and others that will only become available through the acquisition of special abilities and items. Thankfully though, when you get into the rhythm of the game then the mixture of styles is truly brilliant. You might find yourself swinging on ropes to try and get to higher ledges in one moment, going on a fetch quest for one of the NPCs the next, or trying to skateboard while doing a timed task. There really is a lot of variety.
Things culminate with four bosses who you battle, all in order to obtain their song tunes. Nicely, these are not as tricky as some boss battles can be and it really is just a case of learning their moves and patterns, and then attacking. There are harder moments in Neversong though; moments which will really test your platforming and timing skills to the max.
Visually and Neversong excels in the artwork. Like I mentioned earlier it has a Tim Burton-styled twisted fairytale vibe to it, but it also looks beautiful in places with some lovely backdrops that will make your eyes very happy indeed. The characters and enemies you meet along the way feel like they have been pulled straight from a child’s nightmare world – cleverly portrayed and executed. The artwork for the poetic cutscenes is once again a storybook piece of artwork that chills and delights in the same breath. And then the soundtrack and voice-overs are audibly stunning, but then perhaps you should expect that from a game that is essentially about music.
Neversong on Xbox One will provide you with a few hours of gameplay, but throughout it is a joy to play. The world-building, storybook fairytale setting with a dark undertone is one that is perfect for fans of Tim Burton, but even without that it’s a great game with a whole host of different gameplay elements that mix styles in a way that feels comprehensive rather than just thrown together haphazardly. I do think that the opening throes drop you in at the deep end and there are times in which you will find yourself without any direction, and that is a shame. But overall Neversong is a pretty great game that delivers a superb concept.