Konami is like the indie darling of the current generation when it comes to major publishers. Some of its games this generation have proved so niche that they end up being ignored by most gamers. This is potentially why Konami decided to partner up with a couple of Western developers.
The recently released NeverDead is fruit of a partnership with British developer Rebellion. But is it enough to have a Western developer on board to gain the attention of gamers in the West?
The basic concept of NeverDead is that the main character Bryce is immortal. This is a potential flaw in the game since it wouldn’t be much of a challenge, if the player never feared the dreaded game over screen. The developers get around this issue by making the character lose body parts when hit. Small creatures that can inhale Bryce’s head are the main solution for Bryce’s immortality.
When inside the creature, players are prompted with a mini-game which will result in a game over screen, if the player fails it. Bryce is also blessed with the company of a mortal female partner who he must aid when seriously hurt, since it will also result in the game over screen.
It’s only natural that the team would want to provide a challenging game but these solutions seem out of place in a game about immortality.
The levels in NeverDead pretty much consist of clearing each room of monsters until getting to a boss or the end of the level. There’s a few occasions where puzzles are introduced which use Bryce’s ability to voluntarily detach one of body parts. Some of them end up being frustrating as they break up the flow and the objective isn’t clear in some of them.
The remainder of the time will be spent either shooting or slicing monsters into pieces. Making use of the sword is tricky since it uses the right stick for movement. It might seem like a good idea in paper but it’s awkward in practise. Specially when it’s mandatory that it is used sensibly to maximise the power on each attack. Shooting isn’t all that great either considering that half of the shots will miss targets until upgrades are applied.
There are upgrades in NeverDead aimed at improving Bryce’s abilities such as giving him health boosts. It’s one of the few ideas that works since it is necessary to get items from defeated enemies to purchase abilities.
It’s a dangling carrot but one worth hunting down since it makes monster fighting easier. In addition there is a set number of abilities slots that ensures the character doesn’t end up being too powerful.
Perhaps one of the biggest pitfalls in NeverDead is how it decided to portray some of its characters. Bryce’s partner Arcadia not only has a strange name but also manages to sound obnoxious most of the times that she gets to speak.
Some of her bickering with Bryce is kind of endearing, in an old couple kind of way, but it doesn’t help that her facial expressions are reminiscent of a window mannequin doll. Sadly it’s not only Arcadia that suffers from the average script that wouldn’t look out of place in a 80’s action film.
Perhaps one of the best features in the game is how boss fights are designed. In general killing normal monster eventually turns into a mindless chore. But the bosses require more than a few sword slices or bullets. One of the bosses for example will require throwing an arm into its mouth and start shooting; in order to unlock the weak point that will eventually lead to its demise.
NeverDead does fairly well in the visuals department and there is a lot to see with each level set in a different location. There is some satisfaction in being able to rip apart level sections like whole platforms being demolished when shot at.
It’s not perfect in terms of physics but it’s clear than NeverDead is not aiming for the realistic approach. Complimenting all the monster slaying action is a heavy metal based soundtrack courtesy of the legendary Megadeth.
It’s understandable that the developers want to add music that fits with the game. But most of these heavy rock music tracks don’t go too well with most sections in NeverDead. It also doesn’t make sense due to the fact that one of the character in the game is a pop singer. It’s not Megadeth’s fault though as the music tracks chosen are superb but just don’t fit some of the levels they are in.
The final nail in the coffin for NeverDead is the multi-player section which doesn’t seem to compliment the singe-player. The lobbies are as empty as a ghost ship most of the time which is expected since it’s not one of the major players like Halo. In all honesty it’s difficult to assess how well integrated the multi-player modes are without playing enough online matches. But it’s clear that this is an attempt at adding a multi-player section for the sake of fitting in with the current trend.
NeverDead is a bit of a strange video-game in that it performs fairly well in certain sections but is below average in others. It’s a shame since it feels like it has a lot of potential that it never manages to tap into. This would have probably fared better back on the sixteen bit era but it’s unacceptable in an age where gamers are spoilt for choice and technology advances so quickly. A valiant effort from Rebellion that might have done better if further development time had been spent on improving weaker sections.