Nintendad

[Review] Never Give Up – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Massive Monster Games
  • Publisher: Armor Games
  • Release Date: 13/8/2019
  • Price: £12.09/$14.99
  • Review code provided by Armor Games

Have you ever played a game that made you swear? I don’t mean the odd F-bomb. Have you ever played a game that had you dropping F-bombs as both a verb and a noun in a sentence, along with a few C-bombs? There were more than a few occasions when I was playing through Never Give Up when my wife had to have a word with me about my language, such is the difficulty of the game!

Never Give Up is a 2D platformer, brought to you by Massive Monster Games. The game follows on from a series called Give Up, hosted on publisher Armor Games’ website. It is very much in the same vein as games such as Super Meat Boy, N+ and Celeste.

What a bloody mess

The game initially starts as a straightforward 2D platformer, where you control an intentionally generic looking blue stick person as you traverse a series of rooms primed with traps including buzz saws, lasers, spikes, missile launchers and nearly every other videogame trope you can think of. Your character has a very limited move set, which works in the game’s favour as it means you quickly pick up the controls and can focus on the challenges the game throws at you. Your character can run, jump, double jump, slide and wall jump. Interestingly, your double jump refreshes both when you hit the ground or hit a wall. This allows for some really clever set-pieces which initially look impossible.

The first series of levels is set in what appears to be a large test facility, not unlike the Aperture Science facility in Portal. The game includes a cruel taunting voiceover which comes from some disembodied being who seems to be using your character as part of an experiment. You are tasked with traversing these rooms to get to the exit, before starting the next level. With the game’s difficulty, you will inevitably find yourself dying again and again, turning the level more and more bloody as your body is torn to shreds in a comical cartoon style.

Where Never Give Up differentiates itself from similar games is that each level evolves after you complete it. You are transported back to the start of a level and ever more sneaky and cruel traps are added. Sometimes this can involve a subtle adjustment to the positioning of a buzzsaw, so it sits at the natural apex of a jump. Others might include the addition of a conveyor belt for you to run against in a section requiring quick traversal. 

Each of the additions builds on the challenge a level presents and subverts your expectations, as you need to change your approach to a level you may have been stuck on for half an hour. Each level has five variations before you finally beat it and move on to the next challenge. The game consists of six worlds, each made up of four sets of levels and a boss. The worlds each have a theme, from the initial test facility to some city rooftops, a jungle theme and more.

You Died

The game will taunt you relentlessly as you die over and over again in the standard levels, before eventually allowing you to “Give Up”. After ten deaths a big red button appears on the screen, which you can press by holding L and R. This lets you skip to the next level in exchange for your self-respect and dignity, or so I heard! I refused to give up during my time with the game, managing to complete all the standard levels without ever relying on it. I did of course choose this option after completing the game (and dying 1,866 times), just to see what happened. I was treated to a pithy putdown from the developers, which you can see below.

The game doesn’t let you use this mechanic on the boss encounters, which are some of the most challenging sections of the game. Each of the boss encounters plays differently from the standard levels and introduces a one-off mechanic, from pattern recognition to an auto runner and even a bullet hell style shooter. These play brilliantly, reminding me of some of the boss encounters in the Donkey Kong Country series.

The game includes three difficulties. Easy includes checkpoints which are placed sparingly throughout levels, Hard forces the player to make their way right through each level without the cushion of a checkpoint and Permadeath forces you to restart the whole game if you die. I played the game on Easy and still found it a huge challenge!

Leave a good-looking corpse

The game has a huge selection of cosmetics to unlock, with different outfits for your character earned by finding a hidden coin in each level. The game also includes a series of bonus levels unlocked in each world after beating the boss. These are generally a bit harder than the standard levels in the game.

Never Give Up is, overall, a very difficult game. Thankfully it is so quick to restart and so much fun that each death just feels like a lesson and an opportunity to work on your strategy. The game does however include some unfair obstacles, in the form of invisible blocks which only appear when you are right next to them. Some of these are placed in mid-air over spike traps, making it impossible to clear certain sections on the first attempt. Rather than adding difficulty, these just seemed like a cheap trick, which inevitably lead to more swearing! The game includes a challenge on every level to complete them within a set time, which was difficult enough without the addition of invisible, F-bomb inducing platforms! It also includes online leaderboards to allow you to see how you stack up.

The thing I found strange about was that the difficulty never seemed to increase as the game progressed. Each of the individual groups of levels gets more challenging as more elements are added, but once you move onto the next the difficulty seems to reset. I actually even found the first boss fight the hardest (other than the final boss). This seemed odd compared with the structure of most other platform games. I don’t know how far I would have been able to progress however, if the difficulty had continued to escalate after the first world. 

Oww, my Phalanges

I really enjoyed the game overall, but I did find a few annoying niggles. The developers have made a strange choice in enforcing the analogue stick as the only method of control. You cannot use the D-pad at all whilst playing the game, which was infuriating at times given the lack of accuracy a stick affords when playing a twitchy 2D platformer. This is something that could easily be patched in, should the developers decide to.

The game includes a voice over which taunts you throughout and also one for your character, which shouts things like “Oww, my Spleen” when you die. I found these quite funny initially, but by the hundredth death they just started to grate and I ended up turning them off. I found the same with some of the music, whist some was a bit more enjoyable. An odd thing I also noticed was that each level was named, then subtitled with “Witty Subtitle”. I was left wondering if this was just a bad joke or if the developers had actually forgotten to edit the placeholder entry for each level.

Final thoughts

Never Give Up may look like a fairly generic 2D platformer, but it was actually a whole lot of fun. The art style reminded me of some of the cartoons I watched in the early 90s and the same slightly dark humour is present throughout the game.

It controls well, other than the niggle of being forced to use the analogue sticks. The jumping mechanics are nicely weighted and the game has a nice sense of momentum. I really enjoyed playing through the game, despite what it might have sounded like to my neighbours, GCHQ and anyone else who might have been listening in.

For anyone looking for something to play with the same challenge as Super Meat Boy, Celeste or the N+ series of games. I would thoroughly recommend Never Give Up.

Pros

  • A really satisfying challenge
  • Smooth gameplay mechanics
  • A huge amount to do and unlock

Cons

  • No option to use the D-pad
  • Music and announcer get annoying quickly
  • Invisible blocks can infuriate

Verdict

Never Give Up offers a fun, satisfying and very challenging 2D platformer experience. If you can see past the generic looking visuals you’ll find the game actually has a ton of charm and a really nice flow to it once it gets going.

4/5

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