NeverAwake (2023) Game Review – A fantastic, must-play twin-shooter

A fantastic, must-play twin-shooter

NeverAwake is a stunning twin-shooter game and probably one you haven’t heard a great deal of buzz about. Released as an Indie game last year on PC, console players now get the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about, and boy does this one deliver.

Settling in like an old pair of boots, the control scheme works perfectly on the Dualsense or Xbox controller, with the twin sticks controlling movement of your player and your stream of bullets from your gun, respectively. Also called multidirectional shooters, it’s worth noting that the first ever title in this genre came out way back in 1982 and since then, the genre has been graced with a number of excellent titles. NeverAwake then bangs on the door to be part of that illustrious group.

The game sets up a very simple story in the background as incentive for you blasting through these various levels. You take control of Rem, a little girl shackled to her nightmares by various fears in her waking life, each of which you face head-on across the seven different worlds.

From vegetables and the dentist through to school and beyond, NeverAwake breaks up the gameplay nicely into thematic worlds, each with their own unique art style and structure. Part of NeverAwake’s allure comes from said art, which uses a mix of hand-drawn animation for the monsters alongside psychedelic colours and effects for the bullets and attacks. This works really well to break everything up, whilst the simplistic background, with its much darker hues of colour, allow everything in the foreground to stand out.

The aim of the game is pretty simple. Each level takes between 1-2 minutes to complete and in that time you must gun down a stream of enemies that arrive on screen from different directions. However, you also need to strategically place your character around the screen to avoid enemy fire.

Further adding to the chaos are collectibles called “souls”, which are not only the in-game currency rewarded at the end of levels but also your key to completing said levels. Once your gauge reaches 100% completion, then the level is complete.

This approach raises a very interesting strategic dilemma for boss fights because you don’t actually have to defeat the enemy completely to progress. After each subsequent wave and enough bullets have been pummeled into said boss, souls are dropped which allow you to bypass the last part of fights. Of course, you can choose to igNore that and defeat the boss normally, which sets up one of the game’s more unique hooks – its loop system.

These aforementioned levels can be replayed again and again, with the simple level design allowing Rem to be teleported back to the start point once you’ve reached the end. In doing so, you’ll face harder enemies until you either collect enough Souls… or you die.

Unlike in other Twin-shooter games, everything you do in-game is rewarded. As you progress over time, every death and win grants you different perks which can help beef up your character and customize them as you wish. These various abilities can then be equipped and vastly change the way you play through the rest of the game.

On one level I kept dying repeatedly and as a result, the game sprung up a reward of extra defence for Rem, allowing me to get hit another 4 times before dying. It’s just one example of the system working in my favour but a system that helps to innovate the gameplay to a degree that actually keeps you playing – even if you lose on a level constantly.

The customization here is surprisingly robust and nowhere else is that more evident than in the Special Attack you gain and equip Rem with. While the Trumpet Gun was the go-to for yours truly (essentially this works like a massive shotgun blast) there are a number of other attacks you can use instead. From circular blasts to additional guns joining your cause, NeverAwake manages to keep its gameplay refreshing and unique from start to finish.

Once you’ve finished all the levels, the game even throws up its own “Challenge Mode”, coming in the form of additional orbs that help you gain photos for your album. These are no mean feat, especially on the later worlds, and will truly test your skills – and patience.

From downing a boss without collecting all the Souls to finding wormholes and shooting them down, these should keep you going for a solid 2-3 hours longer than the base-game, which will probably take you about 5-7 hours to complete.

If there’s one gripe here it comes from the story. There are repetitive cut-scenes at the end of every world and for the first four worlds, not much actually happens. While it makes sense, given Rem is asleep and needs to wake up, the lack of depth here, combined with the constant diary entries that work to give exposition instead, feel like the roughest part of the experience and could have done with some polish.

Minor narrative gripes aside, NeverAwake is a surprisingly great twin shooter. It’s a fun, chaotic and beautifully designed game that’s well worth your time. This Indie gem is easy to pick up and difficult to put down; once you start though you’ll be glad you did as this could prove to be one of 2023’s best console games.

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  • Verdict - 9/10

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