New Game 'Never Yield' Is A Speedy, Stylish Side-Scroller With Tons Of Replay Value
"Never Yield" is a new speedrunning game from Detroit based Neil Jones, AKA Aerial_Knight, released by Headup Games, with a Black cyberpunk aesthetic and replay-ability that make it incredibly easy to forgive the occasionally confusing quirks in the mechanics
The initial concept is simple enough: "Never Yield" is a 3D side scroller in which you play as "Wally," a mysterious kid who has stolen some kind of important package from a facility. You are continuously running in order to avoid explosives, obstacles and pursuing drones. There are occasionally alterations to this structure, but only loosely — for example, moments when you play as an apparent clone, one who has been activated to chase you.
The cut scenes (which I will do my best not to spoil!) indicate a kind of metahuman power, but that's not present in the gameplay; instead, we keep it smooth and simple, your only controls being the four d-pad buttons. These represent the different kinds of movement you use to avoid threats — running, jumping, sliding and dashing — rather than the direction you're going in. Here, you can die endlessly (or, like 27 times because of THAT van in level 6), and you are given the option to restart the level or "Never Yield," and continue from a checkpoint. Your time beating the level is what matters, and you'll end up caring about death more as an inconvenience than a game-ending experience.
One of the many great things about this game is the one way that I will compare it to Supergiant's big hit "Hades:" Both games are aware that players may be interested in their format (side scrolling speedrunning here, and roguelike speedrunning in Hades), but also intimidated by it. "Never Yield" has set patterns for every level, so speedrunning and improvement comes from memorization, and there's a pride involved in learning a level. The three difficulties, Normal, Hardcore and Insanity, are all slightly different experiences, so you can practice without feeling foolish (unless you're me, and you're struggle with avoiding THAT van. In level 6, goshdarnit). And even if you like playing on harder difficulties, you can go back to Normal and just vibe before bed, which was something I found myself doing a lot.
And vibe is absolutely the name of the game here. Aerial_Knight has put together a game that feels Black as hell while keeping the plot and metaphors simple. I was drawn to the game initially by the concept: A young black man keeps running and, well, never yields. It's a powerful statement to have started in 2019 (when Aerial_Knight began development). The DETROIT emblazoned on his jacket would have been enough, but the unlockable costumes go further (I've been rocking the Boseman, RIP, and can't wait to see people discuss their faves). The art is sharp and easy to follow, and every time I worried about whether how visual cues would work in a level with a slightly different format, there was a clear and easy answer.
One of the strongest parts of the game's aesthetic is its soundtrack, by Detroit artist Danime-Sama — a combination of hip-hop and jazz that blends perfectly with the action. I never got tired of it, no matter how much I played, and I am prone to replaying video games on mute so that I can have other media on. My only complaint here is with the end level's kickass song, which flows into an instrumental instead of looping its rap, but that's minor.
In fact, most of my complaints about the game are minor, merely annoyances rather than things that interrupt gameplay. One level has a boss "fight" (there is no real combat in "Never Yield") early on, a great concept that I thought would continue through the game but didn't, and so it probably could have been cut. I wish I'd had the option to set the controls to the right side buttons on the Nintendo Switch for accessibility and ease, and also a slightly different challenge. And there's a quirk in the controls that mean as long as there isn't a roof, you can use Run whenever you are told to use Jump — but no other buttons offer alternative options. But none of these really hamper the experience once you get in deep.
The real question I was left with after playing was (no spoilers!) whether or not the end cutscenes contradicted the tone and metaphor that the rest of the story provided. The ending is well done, but I found it a little hard to reconcile it with the game's main theme. However, the mechanics and the desire to beat my previous speed help to alleviate this a bit: No matter how you feel about the end ... you're probably going to restart from the beginning.
With a price point of $11.99 on the Switch, and immense amounts of playability for both the casual player and the ones trying to be the fastest, "Never Yield" delivers on every promise it makes.
Danny Lore is a Black SF/F writer of prose and comics. They hail from Harlem and the Bronx.
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