Every game needs a hook, and when I learned of NeverDead’s, I just had to give it a try. Protagonist Bryce Boltzmann is a demon hunter who has been cursed with immortality for the last 500 years. As a result, things that would signal a Game Over in other games are barely a roadblock to Bryce’s progress. The dude can literally tear either of his arms off and throw it at enemies, subsequently signaling it to fire a gun or just plain explode like a grenade. It’s okay – he’ll just grow a new one. Bryce also yanks his head off and tosses it through basketball hoops, which doesn’t hurt enemies but can solve a simple puzzle or two. Yes, this game is a bit nuts.
NeverDead basically plays like a Japanese action game (Bayonetta, etc.) mixed with a dark, British sense of humor. Bryce has two main forms of attack: his sword and his guns. Players swing the sword using the right analog stick. This allows for a fair degree of freedom in the sword’s arc, but it lacks a robust combo system typical of the genre. The sword is generally the most effective method of dealing damage, especially since some demons are immune to bullets. Still, at any time our hero can switch to his dual-wielded guns in order to take on flying threats or explosive enemies. Guns initially lack stopping power, only becoming really effective late in the game. We’ll get to that momentarily.
Bryce may be an immortal, but he’s a lot more fragile than you might think. Just about any contact from an enemy causes him to literally fall apart. 99% of blows will sever one or more appendages. When his happens, you’ll need to run or hop over to the fallen limb and then roll to reattach it. You can also regrow any missing parts once the timed regeneration meter fills up or after grabbing a certain item. The limb loss mechanic may have sounded good on paper, but in practice it’s mostly annoying. Having to stop, drop, and roll every time you take a glancing blow plays hell with the pace of the combat. You get used to it after a while, but I fear many players will get discouraged early on, before they really understand the combat system.
Even more troublesome, severe blows knock Bryce’s head right off. While sometimes it’s necessary to self-decapitate in order to move through tight places (the hero’s head can roll around and jump like a Metroid morph ball), Bryce’s head form is extremely vulnerable during combat. Regular enemies pay it no mind, but tiny demons called Granbabies exist solely to chase after your limbs and eat them. If they swallow Bryce’s head, a short timing based minigame commences. Pass and you’re spit out, free to roll back to your torso. Fail (which will surely happen now and then) and it’s Game Over, as Bryce supposedly spends eternity trapped in the Granbaby’s stomach. Granbabies tend to respawn infinitely while other enemies are around, and killing them doesn’t even provide XP for some reason, so you’re bound to hate them with a passion.
So the protagonist’s tendency to fall apart detracts from the game more than it adds, and yet I still had a blast slicing and shooting hellspawn to kingdom come. That’s mostly due to the excellent upgrade system. At any time after the first mission, you can spend XP gained from killing enemies on a variety of abilities for Bryce. More abilities unlock for purchase as the game’s 8 lengthy story missions are cleared. These abilities include enhancements for Bryce’s sword, guns, running and jumping, XP modifiers, and lots more. You have a limited number of ability slots, so choosing the right ones for your play-style and the situation at hand is paramount.