Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield Review
Neil Jones, better known as Aerial_Knight, is a 3D artist / indie game developer whose latest release Never Yield started out as a passion project. After being picked up by publisher Headup, his free running platformer has finally released worldwide. Playing the demo on the Nintendo Switch last month really got me interested in this title with its simple mechanics and seriously dope beats.
You take the role of Wally, a mysterious kid who’s searching for items from his past while escaping his pursuers attempting to capture him. Detroit is portrayed in a futuristic Japanese cyberpunk aesthetic that really carries the rebellious chic. Traversing through thirteen levels, you evade your enemies using your agility – You have no attack button, and it’s mostly dodging your way out of trouble. You have one life, an unlimited number of continues and a few checkpoints to help you along the way.
If you’ve checked out the demo, what you see is what you get. The bulk of the game’s content doesn’t deviate from what you’ve already played. Using the D-pad (or the analog stick, but I recommend the D-pad), you can either jump, vault, slide, or dash your way out of most obstacles until you reach the end of the level. Every so often, you’re presented with a bonus stage coin that allows you to play a bonus stage. That’s it. Pretty simple.
The real star of the show is the music composed by Neil Jones and Daniel Wilkins. Truthfully enough, the soundtrack is the game’s emotional core. If you were to walk away from this game, the music will be the one you will definitely take with you.
Such musical standouts include the Slow Jam down tempo on Stage 7, a sudden switch to Blues Rap Rock on Stage 6, and of course the epic showdown in the final level with some fantastic blend of orchestrated hero music mixed with the jazzy beat reminiscent of Persona 3.
Level design, when it deviates from its stock levels, are a stand out in the game, which are telegraphed by the deviation in its music track. Never Yield spends a great deal of time conditioning you to progress in your baseline left to right orientation. When it suddenly changes it either through the tempo on level 7, introduces a boss type character in level 6, or completely switches your orientation — those are parts that make the game shine.
However, they’re mostly introduced every three levels or so, and I understand that making them more common will dilute the surprises the game will throw your way. Out of the thirteen levels, about eight of them are quite repetitive. It feels that they were levels that you’ve already beaten but they introduce another set of variable obstacles. Personally, I’ll take 6-8 unique levels rather than thirteen levels with five unique variations.
You can complete the entire run in about an hour. It’s not a particularly difficult game on normal difficulty as you are guided with slow motion and some warnings that telegraph the next obstacle via color coordination. Once you complete the story mode with a fantastic final level, you may replay the game at a higher difficulty to unlock all the outfits and go for faster speed runs.
I personally feel that Insanity mode is the most enjoyable difficulty of the game, as the warning signs and slow-motion throw me off my rhythm. Insanity feels like you’re on constant Bonus mode the whole game and while we could’ve used more orientation changes to mix it up, it just lets me run free on that difficulty.
The mechanic that adds to the replayability of Never Yield is the stage select after completing the game. It takes about an hour to completely finish the game from level one to level thirteen, there were some really fun levels but it takes a while to get there. After the novelty wears off, you’re left with repetitive levels, which get tiresome. That is why I really appreciate the level select to replay the levels that I like without going through the repeated stages in order.
I completed the game on a PS5 versus the demo, which I played on the Switch. The Switch allows for portability, as the levels range between 3-5 minutes to complete, and Never Yield is great for a portable device. Playing on the PS5 allows for a larger screen, faster load times, improved visuals, and of course trophies if you’re into that. I gotta say though, it’d be best on the go, so the Switch is probably the best platform for this game.
What we liked:
- Easy to play and to get into its groove.
- Fantastic music, easily some of the best of the year.
- Level design on specific levels get creative, which is easily revisited with the level select screen.
- This is probably the first game that I’ve purposely changed to a higher difficulty mode to allow for a fuller free running experience.
What we didn’t like:
- Regular levels could’ve been more varied, as it becomes highly repetitive.
- Levels could’ve been shorter that allows total completion in 30 minutes or less rather than the full 13 levels that last for 40 minutes to an hour.
Verdict: Buy it (on the Switch)
I commend Neil Jones for his passion project and providing us with a unique experience with this free running game, and I fully support his vision. While the game is a bit light on gameplay, the soundtrack to it is the icing on the cake and I would most definitely recommend buying it and supporting his composer Daniel Wilkins as well. As for the game, it’s an accessible experience that could be easily picked up and once you complete it, harder difficulties could be unlocked for some speed running options.
Replayability is definitely its strongest suit, allowing for 3-5 minute speed runs on whatever difficulty you choose as the level select screen allows you to replay the levels that you like and there are quite a few that really stand out. You will be able to unlock them in an hour and repeat them as much as to your liking. Though, there were some repetitiveness to many levels and while it’s deliberately done that way for some visual storytelling to play out, as I said I would’ve preferred 6-8 unique levels to 13 repetitive levels with some surprises. For $11.99, you get a runner in your soundtrack (instead of the other way around), and while quite light on gameplay, the fantastic soundtrack more than makes up the rather cheap admission cost.
I would recommend this game as something you could take on the go such as on the Switch or a portable gaming PC as it’s something you can casually play while jiving to the beats. On the PS5, while I appreciate the larger screens and faster loading times, Never Yield is definitely more of a portable indie. I can’t wait to see what Neil Jones has planned for future projects, but definitely check this title out, or at the very least the demo.