Dying in a video game was once as commonplace as running or jumping, so much so that not dying was usually the driving mechanic behind most releases. However, if you look at many games from the last few years, death has become less of an influential factor. In order to make games more accessible to players, many developers have opted out of including some kind of a consequence for dying (also known as "failing") in their games. Whatever way you look at it, death has become a bit of a taboo. However, Konami's latest release, NeverDead, makes no apologies for not allowing its lead character to die, in fact, it's a huge part of the story.
Something went very wrong 500 years ago when demon hunter Bryce Boltzmann and his wife Cypher tried to destroy the demon king Astaroth. Cypher was lost and Bryce was cursed to live as an immortal, inside a human's body, for all of eternity. Fast-forward to modern day demon hunting, and Bryce has taken a position with NADA, a group dedicated to protecting humans from demons, and the world is on the verge of a cataclysmic invasion . NeverDead quickly unfolds as Bryce and his current partner Arcadia attempts to stop a new demon uprising, and take down Astaroth for good.
Falling To Pieces
The main gameplay gimmick in NeverDead is actually quite original: Bryce can't be killed, but he can be maimed, dismembered, decapitated, and split into multiple pieces. Even though he can't die, keeping him together is fundamental to keeping the game going. While the game is still playable with Bryce literally all over the place, it's a lot easier to take down Hell's minions with two arms and two legs attached to a torso, instead of just a disembodied head rolling around.
One of the best things about NeverDead is that just about everything in the game can be upgraded. Experience points are accrued as Bryce kills demons, which can be spent on new features that are unlocked at the end of each chapter. While there are a limited number of slots that house the equipped features, players can mix and match to fit their unique gameplay style.
Multiplayer isn’t a huge focus in NeverDead, but there are a small handful of co-op and competitive modes included. While there isn't really anything that's too groundbreaking here, sinking some time into them can be somewhat rewarding for a couple reason. First off, multiplayer unlocks experience points that can be used to upgrade your character in the single player campaign, and the extra XP can come in handy for some of the more expensive features. The second interesting point is that you can't really die in multiplayer either, which offers a nice twist on the traditional gameplay. The traditional modes are structured to adapt, and keeping track of who just blew you up is much easier, because they never leave your screen.
Gameplay Falls Apart
Bryce falling to pieces may be the main selling point of NeverDead, but it can also be its most frustrating. When he dwindles down to just a head, he's vulnerable to one particular type of character, the Grandbaby, which inhales him into its stomach. Unless you time a mini-game button press perfectly, you'll be doomed to be slowly digested for all of eternity, technically putting an end to gameplay ("dying"). For the most part, the Grandbabies are not the issue (even though they seem to constantly respawn), it's controlling Bryce's head as it rolls around the battlegrounds. Much like other games where you're maneuvering a sphere around the screen, head-based gameplay can feel like you're battling with the controller. While it's one of those features that can be upgraded, players might get frustrated well before it becomes an option.
The gameplay in NeverDead is such that Bryce is in constant communication with his NADA partner, Acadia. Unfortunately, the emphasis there is on "constant". The two either chatter back and forth throughout every battle scene, or, when they aren't coordinating, Bryce breaks the silence with less than witty jokes about what's happening in the game. The frequent chatter takes the game from NeverDead to NeverShutup pretty quickly.
The (Over) Power of the Sword
The cutscenes that show Bryce's backstory make it abundantly clear that they took place 500 years ago, when all our hero had to hunt Astaroth was his trusty blade. However, since the game takes place in the modern world, our hero is packing an arsenal of guns in addition to his trusty blade. With 500 years worth of practice Bryce seems to have mastered his sword tweaking the weapon balance in NeverDead. This balancing act takes the game from from a dual-wielding third person shooter and transforms it into another hack-n-slash title.
NeverDead offers some unique gameplay mechanics with an extensive upgrade system which helps set the game outside of the standard shooter box. Beyond that, the game gets to be a little frustrating, with control issue hampering repetitive battles with the same basic enemies from start to finish, all while your character won't stop making bad jokes. NeverDead is far from perfect, but if you're looking to step a little bit outside of your comfort zone to trying something new (and you're willing to fight with your controller a little bit) you might want to spend some time with this release. At the very least, how many other games out there are going to let you roll around as just the head of the game's main character. Not many.