Review – NeverAwake (PS5)

Bullet hell shooters might actually be the simplest games to develop and release, but that acts as a double-edged sword. The sheer amount of shooters released every year makes it very hard for one of them to actually stand out. A good chunk of them feel somewhat generic. Thankfully, every now and then there’s an exception to said rule, like NeverAwake. Not exactly the hardest bullet hell shooter, nor the longest, but easily one of the most interesting examples released over the past few years. Let’s take a look at NeverAwake, just recently released on PS5.

NeverAwake Wasabi

Name another game where you fight a wasabi. Hell, name another game that features wasabi in general.

Right off the bat, I was captivated by NeverAwake‘s setting. This is not your run-of-the-mill space shooter; you’re not fighting a generic horde of aliens and starships. You control an entity trying to save a girl from an eternal slumber. You will basically fight against her biggest fears and dislikes, such as vegetables, dogs (really? Dogs?) and dentists, all twisted and deformed to resemble nightmares.

The plot itself is not interesting, despite the constant barrage of exposition and information dumped every couple of levels, but the setting itself was amazing. NeverAwake is one of the most unique looking bullet hell shooters I’ve ever played, with beautifully hand-drawn enemies contrasting with your polygonal avatar, which resembles the characters from NIGHTS: Into Dreams, albeit with an extra dose of Burton-esque sass. The game as a whole retains a small Sega arcade vibe, with its dream-like visuals and fast-paced gameplay. You pick up levels and jump straight into them without a millisecond’s worth of loading times.

NeverAwake Filling the Meter

Keep killing enemies until you fill up that meter on the top of the screen. Then you’ll beat the level.

The interesting visuals aren’t the only reason NeverAwake stands out from the dozens of other shooters out in the market. Its gameplay gets the job done with honors, all thanks to an innovative take on bullet hell level design. Unlike most games, where levels are a fixed path with a beginning and end, and the act of charging towards foes is practically an option, and not an obligation, NeverAwake‘s levels are constant loops where you need to kill a certain number of enemies and collect their souls before being allowed to move to the next stage. If you reach the end of the stage without a full soul meter, the level will loop. Basically, the game wants you to go full aggro in order to complete a level as quickly as possible.

You can do so thanks to some stupidly responsive controls. More than just your average bullet hell control scheme, NeverAwake is also a twin-stick shooter. Proper aiming and movement are as important as the strength of your fully customizable and upgradable attacks. Enemies can show up from any direction, requiring an extra level of attention and planning from you. At the same time, as previously mentioned, you gotta be very aggressive, so you do need to perfectly balance defensive and offensive strategies.

NeverAwake Bosses

See mom? This is why I didn’t eat vegetables as a child.

There is little I didn’t like in NeverAwake. In fact, most of my issues were just slight disappointments, or aspects of the game that just didn’t shine as much as the rest of its gameplay or presentation. That would be the soundtrack, which is still great, and sounds like it was composed by Danny Elfman, but it’s not as great as the visuals. There’s also be the aforementioned uninteresting storytelling, which is told in barrages of text, pages from a diary. Finally, there’s the nature of the game itself. NeverAwake is challenging, but quite easy for a bullet hell shooter. You can actually waltz through a good chunk of the game pretty quickly. It is replayable, sure, but playing these levels for a second time doesn’t feel as impactful as the first attempt, when you had no idea what kinds of imagery you’d be up against.

NeverAwake Dog

Awww…. he still looks somewhat adorable.

These issues were minute, however. I still wholeheartedly recommend picking NeverAwake up, even if you’re just moderately acquainted to bullet hell shooters. Its gameplay is actually innovative, in a genre known for rarely experimenting with new control schemes or gameplay loops, and its visuals are just amazing, being the perfect blend of something from Tim Burton and old-school Sega. Even if its story was forgettable and its duration wasn’t that impressive, its core mechanics more than made up for any setbacks found along the way.


Graphics: 9.0

A combination of Sega arcade visuals and some horrendous 90s nightmare imagery, that feels both fresh and disturbing. A few framerate issues here and there, but nothing that resulted in a negative impact on the gameplay.

Gameplay: 9.5

A perfect blend of twin-stick shooter, bullet hell mechanics, and an innovative loop system, which encourages players to be aggressive. 

Sound: 8.0

The Elfman-esque soundtrack was pretty good and memorable, though not as impactful as the gameplay or the bizarre visuals.

Fun Factor: 8.0

The core mechanics are fantastic, and I loved the overall gameplay loop, but NeverAwake felt a bit too short at the end of the day. The plot was also somewhat forgettable, despite the really strong setting.

Final Verdict: 8.5

NeverAwake is available now on PS4, PS5, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on PS5.

A copy of NeverAwake was provided by the publisher.