The Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland said it best “off with her head.” So, I guess Konami and Rebellion studios took that literally and made an entire video game around the premise of dismemberment. Unlike the book, “NeverDead” doesn’t use beheading as an ode to finality. Instead, it means the main character can use his rolling head as a way to platform through a level or reattach it to his immortal body to continue devastating enemies. Being able to dismember the body of Bryce Boltzman is cool at first, but quickly becomes an annoying attribute due to some clunky controls and cheap mechanisms. The rest of the game attempts to provide a campy B movie feel around the overused main gameplay gimmick, but sadly extends a nice origin story through nine poorly designed chapters. This really is one of those “what could have been ideas,” however, the final product is one ridiculous atrocity. I feel very sorry for anyone that bought this game.
The story of NeverDead follows Bryce Boltzman, a demon hunter, who was cursed by the Demon King Astaroth with immortality 500 years ago. Bryce now works for a task force called NADA and seeks revenge against Astaroth for killing his wife and cursing him. Bryce, along with “she’s only around for the T&A” Blondie NADA officer Arcadia, go through completing missions for NADA. Then a twist happens after they find popstar Nikki Summerfield in a museum and they suddenly must save Nikki from the clutches of Alex, a demon that is obsessed with awakening the Demon King Astaroth. The story itself is not actually too bad, but it is the rest of the game that falters horribly around it.
Since Bryce cannot really die, I guess his true damnation is his body is a fragile mess. Basically, every time Bryce is nudged by an enemy, one or more of his limbs fly off his body. Players must then roll into the fallen limbs to reattach them to his corpse. However, Bryce does not just lose his limbs, he can also be dismembered to the point where a player is left with only a rolling head. This is where the game comes off its hinges. There are many times throughout the game that players will be asked to rip-off Bryce’s head to use it as a way to gain entry into a special room or reach a high ceiling, which is fine. Mostly though, Bryce will lose his head because the various enemies will remove it from his body. It is cool the first twenty times, but after having to painstakingly go through the process of attaching limbs two thousand times it gets old quickly. Especially, because there are many times where it becomes almost impossible to reattach the head to the body.
Thankfully, the game does give players the ability to automatically reassemble Bryce’s missing parts by clicking in the left joystick, but that’s only if you are able to move around long enough for the game to reassemble the body whenever it feels like it. Regardless, it doesn’t make the whole process of attaching limbs any less cumbersome.
Many enemies may knock Bryce to the other side of the area or he may even get his head eaten by a crawly demon called a “Grandbaby” that populate every single area. If Bryce’s head is eaten, players must win a short QTE event to get the demon to spit his head back out. If players lose in the QTE event, a game over screen appears. I understand they had to find a way to cause a “game over” to happen, but the crawly demons are also present in every boss fight, which makes the big battles even more annoying. Mainly because, a lot of the bosses are tough to beat by default because of the games myriad of issues, the Grandbabies add an unnecessary element of cheap death. They could have just created a unique way for each of the bosses to “kill” Bryce instead. Then leave the Grandbabies to exist only around the grunt enemies.
Not to mention, in the latter half of the game, many of the bosses gain the ability to regenerate their own health. With a few of them also having to be cheaply defeated three or four different times at once to get through the chapter. For example, the second-to-last boss a demon named “Alex” is extremely fast and relentlessly attacks Bryce to no end. So, what do the developers decide to do? Not only can Alex regenerate his health, but he must be defeated a total of four times before he truly surrenders. Each time he becomes faster, has more attacks, and if left alone for too long, regenerates his whole health bar, no joke. Bryce is already a slow moving character and it does not really become an issue for most of the game. However, when you get to Alex, you realize the developers must think players are idiots. It takes the game from simply annoying to “I want to throw my controller at my television screen” levels of frustration. I trudged through the game just because I wanted to get to the end, to see if there was any payoff. Then I got to “Alex,” and that boss battle became the final straw for me with NeverDead. Don’t get me started on the incredibly cheap Panda Bear enemy that is used in three different chapters for no reason at all, other than to piss the player off. These enemies are not the only reasons why I wanted to quit playing this game. There are quite a few more things I haven’t mentioned that made me severely dislike NeverDead.
Bryce defends himself throughout the adventure with various dual-wielding guns and a large sword. However, each of the weapons also present their own problems because of some clunky controls and an erratic camera.
The guns are useless against the grunt enemies because they move faster than Bryce ever thought about being. So, players are forced to use the sword to hack away at the grunt enemies. I do not understand why the developers decided to not only, map the sword to the right joystick, but also make players have to hold down the LT button while moving the joystick around as well. It makes the swordplay very clunky and more difficult than it should have been. The erratic camera does not help matters either. There were many times where I felt it was better to just to swing wildly in any direction and hope I caught an enemy in my wake. Especially because the game uses antiquated portals called “wombs” in the world of NeverDead, to constantly spit out enemies until players destroy said portal. So, the never ending stream of puppies and other enemies make the hacking a chore. They also decided to close off an area until every enemy is vanquished, which adds more annoyances to the game. There were quite a few times where the final enemy dismembered Bryce completely and I had to reassemble him just to kill one freaking slicer thing.
Oh yeah, the sword is basically useless in boss battles except in two cases, and is only needed because both of those bosses are built to be taken out with the sword.
The one bright spot in the battle system allows players to break down the environment around Bryce and players can smash down pillars and walls onto enemies. Even though there are many times where Bryce suffers the repercussions of the falling debris. Sadly, this nice use of environmental hazards disappears in boss fights. The sadder thing is, that destroying the environment is the best part about fighting in NeverDead.
The game does have various abilities, which can be bought in an abilities store. Players gain XP by defeating enemies and picking up red orbs that are distributed throughout each level. The abilities range from very helpful increases like the sword’s attack power to unnecessary upgrades like allowing Bryce to jump farther. The most useful abilities take so much of the ability slots that it makes buying these abilities virtually worthless because you will never be able to fit all the ones you want or need in there.
All of this is hampered further by the fact that aside from a couple of bosses and the main characters themselves, the rest of NeverDead’s design is largely uninspired and generic. The boss fight with Sullivan inside his “stomach” looked great and provided an interesting challenge because it moves around. The demon Sangria is probably the best thing about NeverDead. He is a southern guy that tries to be English and looks like a demon drag-queen. He made me laugh quite a few times while watching his scenes. Bryce looks cool and I actually liked his former non-immortal self better. Nikki Summerfield doesn’t look too different than a few other female anime characters, but at least they tried with her.
Players should look at most of the levels and the “I am trying to be smart, but I’m really not” Arcadia, to get the point of the look of NeverDead. There is a lot of “I’ve seen this before” in the game and it does not endear itself well. The two women in NeverDead help Bryce, but largely don’t seem to know what they are doing. So, it makes me not really care about either one of them very much. Not to mention, players are forced to save Arcadia a lot because she constantly seems to run into every explosion, plus the blatant chapter ending shots of her ass or cleavage make me not take her seriously at all.
I watch a lot of anime and japanese films, so I can tell that much of NeverDead’s humor is “japanese” in a sense, but it turns out to be rather unfunny most of the time. Mainly because Bryce is a silly one-line abuser, especially when he is a rolling head, and his constant sexual shots at Arcadia come off as dumb. The voice acting itself is not bad, but the writing didn’t help the actors very much. To me, they tried to be similar to Suda 51’s “Shadows of the Damned,” but failed. The problem is Garcia Hotspur is a guy that kicks demon ass and has a male sidekick that makes sexual jokes mainly about himself, and says “what everyone is thinking about” the women that are in the game. Bryce just comes off as a creepy guy that has nothing better to do than hit-on the only woman that is ever around him. This is showcased the best, when players can go through Arcadia’s house and Bryce is amazed at Arcadia’s panty drawer. If almost every conversation between the two didn’t start off with some stupid sexual joke, it may not be as big a deal. It really just gets overdone and so any humor in the flirting is gone. At least the soundtrack in NeverDead rocks hard; they got Megadeth to do the main theme.
As I mentioned earlier, NeverDead’s concept is a great idea that gets abused to hell in the final product. I’m not even gonna waste time mentioning the two tacked on multi-player modes because there probably won’t be anyone around to play with you because of how bad this game is. The only bright spot is Bryce’s origin story, but since players have to trudge through a lot of bad gameplay and cheap boss fights, it amounts to a lot of wasted effort. Effort is a nice word for NeverDead because it seems like there was a severe lack of it here. I recommend you act like another character in Lewis Carrol’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland novel, The Rabbit, and be late for something else other than wasting time playing NeverDead.