Tackling the death of youthfulness and mental health through the lens of an eerie physiological narrative might seem like a tall task for any game. But it’s something that the teams at Serenity Forge and Atmos Games decided to tackle head-on with their new title, Neversong, launching on May 20th, 2020 on Steam. This side-scrolling narrative adventure features Peet and his bird companion traversing through a town that’s undergone some serious changes after Peet’s recent coma. Neversong uses a storybook style to take on a hair-raising tale and tough, real-world concepts, but does it create an enriching experience or will it fall flat when it comes to its intended purpose?
A Childhood Dies, An Adventure Is Born
In Neversong there isn’t any shortage of puzzles, questions, or mysteries to be had. The story is told through a variety of elements, including a storybook-style retelling of the events prior to the protagonist, Peet, falling into a coma. But this game isn’t always as direct with its storytelling pieces, just like most good psychological narratives. Hidden on the walls, in the background, or even in the sounds of the world are clues and elements to build Neversong into a more well-rounded story.
From the very first time you are able to control Peet and throughout the many moments of cutscenes, conversations, and more, you learn the story of a dying youth and changing town. Neversong tells one story of monsters and zombie grown-ups, but reveals so much more about the idea of mental health struggles through symbolism in a way that feels apparent but not too heavy-handed. The themes in this game are dark, certainly, but they tell a story that needs to be heard and one I truly appreciated experiencing.
The environmental storytelling abilities of this game, as mentioned earlier, only add to the experience as well. There are so many moments where I would enter an area and start to take in everything, beginning to realize what was being told without a single line of dialogue. The storybook attitudes of many of the characters around Peet began to feel eerie as well and took on their own ways of explaining deeper meanings that you’ll appreciate the further you get into the game. Overall, Neversong sets up a storytelling style early on that it carries well throughout and uses to its advantage all the way.
Playing Neversong feels like an endlessly fascinating adventure through a never-ending nightmare in the best way possible. As you explore the different levels and locations around Peet’s town you’ll encounter plenty of puzzles to attempt. Don’t be fooled the childlike nature of some of the characters and storytelling, as the puzzles in Neversong pack a punch. At first somewhat simple, these puzzles can be woven into just about any scenario throughout the game and get quite complicated. Whether it’s the mechanics of a boss fight, working your way through a level, or just trying to unlock a new item at the piano in Peet’s house, there’s always more than meets the eye in this game.
Puzzle-solving does make up a large part of the mechanics in Neversong, but there’s plenty of combat against strange creatures too! One of the aspect of the game features cards that you pick up along the way, in addition to songs you learn after beating levels. Playing these songs at the piano in Peet’s home unlocks items that allow for more exploration and combat. While the combat is fairly simple, it feels like there’s just enough of it to be interesting and not so much that it overwhelms the other elements of the game.
While the mechanics and gameplay for Neversong were nearly flawless, there were just a couple of issues I encountered along the way. I overwhelmingly enjoyed my experience in playing but did run into some issues with vision and being able to see some platforms or areas correctly, which felt necessary for nearly frame-perfect jumping. This may be in part to the darker lighting of the game, which can cause some issues for those with vision impairments like myself.
However, the only other big issue I faced with the gameplay of Neversong involved its sword combat system. Though it is a fairly simple and straightforward mechanic, at times it felt a bit slow or lagged on input. It was nothing game-breakingly bad, but enough of an inconvenience to frustrate me more than my inability to solve puzzles or complete the perfect jumps.
Eerie Beauty in Dark Times
There is a specific type of beauty that comes from a game like Neversong, one that is both in the story elements as well as the art and music. From the moment you reach the menu, you can tell that the game is going to be a sight to behold. The use of environmental storytelling through art or lighting and the general aesthetic will stick with you long after you’ve finished it. Taking on an interesting hybrid that reminds me of James and the Giant Peach meets The Stinky Cheese Man, this storybook style will have you hooked from the moment you start playing. I found myself sitting in scenes just to keep looking at the rooms around or to listen to the wonderful music being played.
The music in Neversong is also not to be ignored. Playing into the themes of the story, this soundtrack is centered on piano music and is brilliant to hear. Each moment that already felt enjoyable to experience was amplified by the soundtrack. It was instantly one of my favorite soundtracks I’ve heard in a game in a while and something I’d love to listen to over and over again.
A Mystery Worth Uncovering
It didn’t take long for me to realize that Neversong was a special game. The kind of special game that we only see come around here and there. I’m sure I won’t be the first, or the last, to draw comparisons to titles such as Inside or Night In the Woods, but it’s exactly the kind of game that’s on par with those great psychological narratives of the past.
But that doesn’t make it the same by any means. In fact, Neversong is beautifully unique. Throughout each puzzle, conversation with one of the town kids, or even just standing there and taking in the music, you can feel that this game is different.
Neversong is nearly the perfect game for the genre. Aside from the few issues that I mentioned, and few they are, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with side-scrolling puzzle game mechanics. The story is dark, beautiful, and haunting in a way that only a few games have been able to capture before. If you’re thinking of the next title to pick up and scratch that psychological narrative itch, Neversong is the clear choice.
Review copy provided by Serenity Forge for Steam. Screenshots captured by reviewer.