NeverAwake & the Twin Stick Trio

The Twin Stick Shooter is a game genre that has been around for quite some time. In Twin Stick Shooters players control the character movement with one stick, while aiming/shooting with the other. Within this genre there is much room for deviation, leading to a wide collection of games. Games with some similarities, but way more differences — making it easier to find new experiences within the genre.

NeverAwake (developed by Neotro Inc and published by Phoenixx), is a fast-paced, nightmarish twin-stick shoot’em up set in the surreal world of one little girl’s fears. The game is currently out on Steam, PlayStation consoles, and Nintendo Switch. I’ve been enjoying NeverAwake for the past few weeks on my Nintendo Switch*.

The game takes place in Rem’s (the little girl) dream world (or nightmare dungeon), where you float around defeating different demons and monsters from her mind. The enemy roster is built upon the spookiest subjects from any childhood: the dentist, vegetables, dogs, conflict at school, and other adolescent troubles. The point of each level is to collect souls from the defeated enemy.

What makes this game unique is the level design and layout. I can see myself keeping NeverAwake on my Nintendo Switch for a long time. Most levels, other than the boss fights, consist of short continuous loops. It’s the perfect “speed runner-in-training” game. Playing this made me think of old school arcade cabinets, where your main goal is to obliterate the highest score and leave your calling card (or initials) behind for the next player.

The scoring in NeverAwake is different though, since you are trying to reach a specific amount of souls per level — 100%, whatever amount that may be — in the shortest amount of distance and time. Instead of going for the “high score” you are trying to make it to “the score” as quickly as possible, in the least amount of loops.

Twin Stick Comparison

Playing this game immediately brought to mind two of my most played Twin Stick Shooters of recent years, The Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungeon. I’ve been obsessed with both of these games ever since I started playing them, although I haven’t played Gungeon in some months — but when I was playing, it was nonstop. And, after going back to Gungeon for this project, I can see my addiction coming back very soon.

NeverAwake - Gameplay Image

While similarities can be found throughout these three games, they are all also completely different from each other in so many ways. For example, while NeverAwake and Enter the Gungeon are fast-paced, bullet-hells, The Binding of Isaac is a bit slower paced. Isaac does get a bit wild at times, but is mostly pretty tame compared to the other two.

The Binding of Isaac - Gameplay Image

Isaac and Gungeon feature procedurally-generated dungeon crawling, meaning the level layout is different with every new run. NeverAwake follows a structured world and level system, where you unlock the next level as you beat the previous one. The high score tracking invites players to replay levels over and over again.

Enter the Dungeon - Gameplay Image

In Enter the Gungeon you must point in the proper direction (with your shooting stick), but also pull the trigger to actually shoot your weapon. The shooting in NeverAwake and Isaac rely only on merely pointing in any direction. NeverAwake does feature full 360-degree shooting, while Isaac can only shoot up, down, left and right — making you get creative with oddly placed enemies.

There are so many Twin Stick shooters with all kinds of different rulesets and features. I’m only comparing NeverAwake to two of my favorites since I have spent so much time with them.

Back to NeverAwake

NeverAwake is definitely a game that I will continue to play, and hopefully make my way through all the worlds. One accessibility feature that is great for any player is OVERSOUL mode. Anytime you die during a level, you may choose to try again in OVERSOUL mode which is like a berserker or ultimate mode where you and your weapons become more powerful. It’s like an “easy mode,” but with a way cooler name.

It’s just a nice way for the game to say, “Hey, we know that level was tough. Let’s give you a break, so we can move onto the next one. You can always come back later and try again.”

So many games today rely on our familiarity with using the left stick to move your character, while looking around with the right stick (first-person shooters, third-person games…). It’s refreshing to find new ways to use the twin sticks in gaming. I’m impressed any time a new game features some fresh new mechanic, as long as it works and runs smoothly.

NeverAwake is available now on Steam (PC), PlayStation consoles, and Nintendo Switch.

* was provided with a NeverAwake review code from the publisher.

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