Directed by Shinta Nojiri, who has most notably taken the lead on various titles in the Metal Gear Solid series over the years, and developed by Rebellion studios of Alien Vs Predator fame, NeverDead is Konami’s take on the immortal demon hunter theme recently executed so brilliantly by Platinum Games in Bayonetta.

The protagonist, Bryce Boltzmann, is a 500 year old demon hunter who was forced to watch his wife die at the hands (tentacles?) of Astaroth, the demon king. Now cursed with immortality by Astaroth’s evil eye, Bryce has been forced to endure an eternity of regret, guilt and, judging from the state of his apartment, bachelorism. Half a millennia later, Bryce finds himself working for the enigmatically titled NADA, an agency dedicated to eradicating demon kind, along with his beautiful and sassy partner Arcadia. Like a cross between Bruce Campbell and Constantine, Bryce trundles through life with disgruntled cynicism, only perking up when he gets the opportunity to deal out some hurt to demonkind (which, judging from this game, is all the freaking time). Demons are one thing, but when he saves the arrogant, spoilt pop princess Nikki Summerfield, he finds he may have bitten off more than he can chew. The humorous banter between the characters, though it isn’t quite as on the money as the brilliantly sleazy Bayonetta, gives the game and its characters a real charm. David Lodge, in particular, injects Bryce’s character with a good deal of, er… humanity.

Since Bryce is immortal the game’s fundamental challenge comes not from staying alive in the traditional sense, but from staying in one piece. After a few hits from a variety of enemies and environmental death-traps Bryce loses a limb, which can be reattached by rolling over it, but take too much damage and you’re rapidly reduced to a head rolling around the environment. If you’re not quick to reassemble yourself you’ll soon get hoovered up by one of the really annoying Kirby-esque demons, which seem to be everywhere, and slowly digested for all eternity in its stomach. The game gives you one last chance to save yourself from this unspeakable fate in the form of a timed button press. Miss it and you’re dead. Simple as that. Since this is the only way you can trigger a game over (aside from Arcadia being taken down) it sometimes feels like the entire game simply boils down to whether or not you are capable of pressing a button at the right time. Also get used to this happening a lot, as its painfully easy to be blown apart in the game, and given the OTT physics engine, don’t expect your head to land in the same post code region as your body.

Although the game’s core mechanic sounds like a bonkers Suda 51 concept, it’s not without its precedents. Dynamite Headdy was lobbing his brainbox at enemies back on the master system and who can forget the charming pastiche of 1950’s horror tropes that was Stubbs the Zombie, with his unusual approach to bowling? Unfortunately what initially seems like an incredibly playful idea, here quickly becomes very frustrating, as you find yourself spending the majority of the game rolling around with Bryce shouting: “I hope this doesn’t mess up my hair”. One level in particular demonstrates the mechanic at its most flawed, as you attempt to move through a subway where it’s almost impossible to avoid being hit by an oncoming train. So you spend the next twenty seconds reassembling yourself just in time to be hit by the next train, and then the next, ad nauseam.

If only someone had actually stepped back and said “Hold on! This is happening way to often to be fun now. Let’s refine the system a bit more”. As it stands, though, despite being quite well handled in itself, the constant dismemberment often detracts from what is otherwise a fairly enjoyable and quirky game (I certainly never thought I would criticise a game for having too much dismemberment). Much better handled is the self controlled detachment of limbs, which serve a variety of functions from distracting dog-like demons with a game of fetch using your own arm, or lobbing your head through the ventilation shaft to access hidden areas. You can even purchase an upgrade to turn Bryce’s arm into a hand grenade!

Despite these flaws and some one-dimensional level design, which generally sees you moving between endless waves of demons, NeverDead still has a lot going for it, including enjoyably visceral combat – employing a sword that can be controlled via swiping the analogue stick – and some very nice graphics.







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