Neverawake sounds like a hashtag of pure apathy. Like someone choosing to be separated from the woke-culture that is so often decried. It’s a figurative state of mind, however this Neverawake status is implying that the main subject of this game literally is indeed not awake and we are trapped in her nightmare. While we have seen games that approach strong subject matter with lots of dialogue and exposition as we trundle through a dream world while trying to solve some puzzle, Neverawake wants to take these problems and blast them away.
Neverawake starts with your stage select sequence, visualized as a young girl floating in empty space with several bracelets on each appendage and a hole in her chest like something tore her heart out. Each link is an area full of monstrosities in a given landscape. Each Landscape is different for each bracelet. When you select your first stage in the starting area (Veggie forest) you are given a little bit of text about an event that happened during a day in the life of the girl, like it is a journal entry. These first few entries revolve around school and her interaction with other kids during her lunch breaks. In this veggie forest you take the form of a blacked out hooded sprite that is floating in this vegetable laden dreamspace and you are attacked by, you guessed it, vegetables.
Neverawake plays as a twin stick bullet hell shoot’em up. The heart of its gameplay harkens back to shooters of yore such as R-type, Gradius\Salamander mixed with a little bit of Strike Witches. You can opt for auto aim\auto shoot to focus on your avoidance of enemies and their projectiles, but it is far from optimal in boss battles with multiple targets. As you gather soul shards that are shed by defeated enemies, you will see a percentage counter. Once you grab 100% of the required soul shards, you move on to the next stage. If you don’t get the required amount by the time the stage ends, you loop through it again until you reach the goal percentage.
Boss fights play out in a similar manner. The mid boss for Vegetable forest is a stick of wasabi that has several eyes. Shoot out the eyes and they shed soul shards. Each phase will shed 33 percent of the required souls for stage end. Each phase is accompanied by a specific pattern of attacks from the boss creature. If you successfully gather all the shards from the 3 phases, stage over. If not, the stage loops again while fighting the same boss. With the soul shards earned from each stage, you can purchase power-ups and buy accessories that augment the power of your dream avatar. From a fast dash move to multi-stream weapon shots, there is plenty to help you in your battle. If you die, you can purchase an oversoul mode which makes you a little quicker but supercharges your projectile shot.
The graphics are very well done with a dark foreboding feel and lots of shadows, yet the character sprites are vivid and crisp. Enemies have excellent and original designs that vary in different stages. The dog park background has an almost Tim Burton warped feel to it. That background looks like it was hand drawn which matches the almost whimsical psycho poodles that try to kill you in that stage. The music is synth heavy and very floaty. It certainly feels like the beautiful soundtrack of a midsummer night dream. It’s not quite upbeat as it is mysterious and wondrous.
Neverawake is an exercise in both style and substance. The game play is fantastically fun with a sprinkle of difficulty thrown in that can be abated with aids it throws your way. With the short stages, it is easy to pick and play in short bursts and put down at any given time. The sad story it tells in between stages keeps you hooked to see the progression of events that lead to the poor child’s comatose state. Neverawake gets a high recommendation if you are looking for a side scrolling (sometimes up and down too) shoot ‘em up. It provides hours of entertainment and well worth the meager price of admission.
Things I like:
Shoot ‘em up!
Things I would improve on:
Make the stages perhaps a little longer
R-Type Dimensions EX for PC
Bullet Soul for Nintendo switch