When Adults Go Bonkers
HIGH Unsettling, yet fascinating atmosphere.
LOW Mediocre gameplay mechanics and platforming.
WTF Beating knife-wielding grown-ups with a bat.
Neversong, formerly titled Once Upon a Coma, is a reimagining of the flash game Coma, developed by Thomas Brush in 2010.
This 2D action-adventure tells the heartfelt story of a boy called Peet who wakes up from a nightmare only to find himself in another — the grown-ups are gone, strange creatures have taken up residence in the town, and someone has kidnapped his childhood sweetheart, Wren. Despite his timid nature, Peet embarks on an adventure to find her while trying to make sense of the strange things that have befallen Redwind Village. At least he’s not alone. He has Bird, a winged companion to help him on his journey.
Neversong‘s tale is told through storybook rhymes and players will have to solve puzzles, engage in platforming and use everyday objects (like an umbrella or skateboard) to progress to new areas. The charming mundanity of these objects evokes childhood memories and sets it apart from other adventure games. Many puzzles aren’t challenging but may take some time to crack since Neversong doesn’t engage in hand-holding. Completing one of these felt unexpectedly satisfying and tied in well narratively, giving me “OOOH” moments.
Otherwise, Neversong plays like a mini-metroidvania where progress is gated and exploration encouraged by the narrative and secret collectibles. The items are obtained gradually — by interacting with characters or defeating bosses, players learn songs they play on the piano at Peet’s house’s to unlock the upgrade.
I rarely play games that use music as a mechanic, but rushing back with new songs kept me hooked despite the long backtracking sections to get back to the piano because the world changed a bit every time I did it, and I appreciated the concept of literally plucking a song from a boss. However, it would have been stronger if the tunes were more tied to the story, either as a tool to evoke memories or as another layer for this distorted world. Unfortunately, despite the songs and piano being central elements of Neversong, they feel underutilized until the very end.
The combat also feels underutilized and overly simple. There are about five types of enemies and four bosses, none of which are difficult to beat. Most bosses take one try, and the hardest thing about them is dealing with any platforming during the battle and some heavy camera shake.
Despite the softness of the gameplay, there’s something compelling about Neversong that I can’t quite put my finger on, and I felt pulled in different directions. One moment it’s unnerving and confusing, the other it’s childish and awkward. When Peet wakes up, he starts running in metaphorical circles, with the world constantly warping around him to match his confusion. Even as things go back to normal, things aren’t quite right — from the grown-ups wielding knives to the children that were left behind to deal with their mental illness, the symbolism of Neversong enchants, but never overwhelms.
Supporting this atmosphere is Neversong‘s distinctive art style. The storybook aesthetic present in the cutscenes is repeated throughout, sporting many details and design elements that, together with the color palette, create a playfully sinister atmosphere. After finishing Neversong, I went back and played the original Coma and found myself incredibly drawn to its different, yet still eerie art-style.
In terms of narrative and character, there are more than a few kids Peet comes across during his journey. Despite their comical appearance and quirky dialogue, most of Redwind’s younger denizens suffer from some form of mental illness. One is prone to violence, while another struggles with OCD. There are adults too, but most are locked in cages, foaming at the mouth or trying to kill Peet.
Each character has just enough flavor to feel relatable. Sure, some are miscreants that I wanted to toss in a bin, but others have delightful personality nuances. Sadly, these traits have minimal impact on the story, other than, perhaps, explaining the dysfunctional relationship with their parents.
There’s only one character that takes on an active role (or dare I say roll) in helping Peet — Simeon, the kid shaped like a ball and suffering from body dysmorphia who I literally maneuvered around the map and then abandoned. (Not being able to save him made me feel bad!) As for Wren, there’s almost no character development past a recurring “damsel in distress” theme, and this is my biggest issue with the experience overall. I know Wren is important and why, but Neversong did little to get me emotionally invested in Wren or their relationship.
There are other things I could complain about, like the occasional bug or strange hitboxes, but I appreciated that Neversong never tries to be more than it is, and everything it offers is meant to be in service of its heartfelt story of loss and hope. I felt ruined by the ending, but I will say that it also leaves some things to the player’s imagination.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Atmos Games and Serenity Forge and published by Serenity Forge. It is currently available on PS4, Switch, XBO, iOS and PC. This copy of the game was obtained from the publisher and was played using both controller and keyboard and mouse. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game was rated E10+ by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence. Personally, I would rate it T because it contains violence and crude humor.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind options available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I have played the game without sound and found it fully accessible. All dialogue has subtitles, but the font cannot be resized. The music notes are visible onscreen and recorded in a separate menu.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Some actions are context-sensitive, but on keyboard it’s move left: A, move right: D, jump: Space, interact: E, attack: left mouse click. On an Xbox controller, it’s move left or right: left stick, jump: X, interact: Y, attack: A.