NeverAwake Review

NeverAwake by developer Neotro Inc. and publisher Phoenixx Inc.PC (Steam) review written by Richard with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

NeverAwake is a unique take on the classic style of twin-stick shooter/bullet hell genre. A nightmarish setting with some unique twists, NeverAwake is a great addition to the shooter scene.

NeverAwake tells the story of a girl who is asleep, and her struggle to fight against the nightmares that plague her. An artistic and often grotesque representation of childhood terrors, such as eggplants and vegetables, are just some of the monsters she fights against. As you progress through the nightmarish, but very well designed, stages of the young girl's trauma, you will unlock diary entries as you go, shedding more light on the girl's circumstances.

So let's talk a bit about how NeverAwake functions. The game is split into different Worlds which each have a theme, such as vegetable garden or dog park, and are further split into stages. Stages can be one of two types: normal or boss. During normal stages, your goal is to kill enemies and collect souls in an autoscrolling stage. Once you've collected enough souls, then the stage is clear. Yeah, that's right, you don't need to reach the end of the stage in order to finish it.

Now, you may be wondering "what happens if you do reach the end of a stage without enough souls?". Good question! What happens is that the stage loops every time you hit the end, with enemies getting harder each loop but providing more when you kill them. Well, assuming it isn't a gimmick stage where enemies don't drop souls. Boss stages sort of work in a similar manner, where you don't actually need to fully kill a boss to complete a stage. Each "phase" of a boss completed usually drops a number of souls, so generally you only need to complete 3 phases on a given boss in order to win, with a few exceptions. Loops in boss stages are still a thing, but they occur once you've killed a boss instead of after a set amount of time.

Now, as far as twin stick shooters go, NeverAwake also offers another aspect to draw your attention: accessories and specials. While normally you would fly around a stage with one stick and shoot in a direction with the other, NeverAwake offers the opportunity to do a little more. First up, you have a dash which not only moves you in a direction, but offers some invincibility time. Next there are specials. Those familiar with bullet hells can think of them as bombs, but instead of screen clearing, they usually just have a set area of effect or pattern they follow. There are a wide variety of options, all with unique mechanics, so pick what's best for the situation!

Lastly, NeverAwake offers a suite of customization tools in the form of accessories. Accessories have a bunch of different possible effects, and you can equip as many as you have slots for, although some do cost more than one slot. These accessories can increase defense, collect souls faster, reduce souls collected, and more. It's really fun building a "loadout" for specific stages or boss crushers.

Now some of you may have noticed I mentioned defense and been like "wait a moment, health in a twin-stick/bullet hell???". Well, it's sort of health. The accessory in question gives you an extra hit, instead of the "one-and-done" idea. Really handy during bosses or for the first time running a new stage. The best part? Accessories can be upgraded, although you do have to purchase the upgrades which replace the previous level.

Unlocking upgrades is… something I'm not super sure about, as the in-game hints mentioned new unlocks as you fail stages, but I also unlocked stuff from clearing stages as well. Either way, both special attacks and accessories can be upgraded. Since you keep souls earned on a failed run, and you unlock items from failing stages, repetitive failures in a stage still affords progress. Who knows, the next unlock may be just what you need to complete that stage you were stuck on.

If you're still looking for more, NeverAwake also offers bonus challenges at a certain point. After clearing all the stages in a World, and hitting a certain point for progression, Omoide challenges become available. These are reruns of the same completed stages, both boss and normal loops, and have different requirements. For example, you could be tasked with collecting all the required souls in 1 loop, or defeating a boss without collecting all the required souls.

While normally these aren't too bad, I have to say some of the "complete within 1 loop" challenges were very frustrating, especially if you try them before unlocking certain accessories. The "collect all souls on screen" and "increase soul generation" items would have helped a lot had I not unlocked them only after clearing the one stage I had so much trouble with. For completing the goal however, you do earn album entries, which show a glimpse into the girl's life revolving around the theme of that World. I found them to be a nice bonus challenge that weren't obtusely frustrating.

Let's talk a bit about the art style and soundtrack decisions. First off, the art is a wonderfully done mash of "fairytale-esque" and "malformed nursery rhyme". I mean, hopefully you can tell from the screenshots included, but it really hits that good medium between children's book and nightmare fuel. Bosses are also usually a malformed monstrosity based on some form of trauma or dislike, such as the vegetables mentioned earlier. The sound direction is also really well thought out, with both atmospheric tracks in the standard stages and exciting boss music during the boss stages.

Overall, I feel like NeverAwake did a really great job of encapsulating some of the best aspects of twin-stick shooters and bullet hell genres, all while wrapping it up in a nice package that tells a surprisingly meaningful yet dark story about a young girl and her troubles.

The looping mechanic in the non-boss stages and the sheer amount of customization in the form of accessories is a great way to keep the game fresh all the way through. While the game may get tough at some points, there wasn't a time where I thought the stages were particularly cheap. Even when frustration began to set in, clearing the stage made it all the more worth it in the end. Fans of twin-stick shooters and bullet hells alike are sure to get a blast out of NeverAwake.

Score: 8.5 / 10



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