The recent Indie Showcase made an indie star out of Neil Jones and his new game, Aerial_Knight's Never Yield. (Read our interview with Neil Jones HERE!). The game is the end product of a solo developer working nights and slow shifts at a day job to make a space for himself in the video game industry. The basic mechanics in Aerial_Knight's Never Yield might be simple, but the fantastic sense of style in the visuals and the music will be enough to pull you through its short and bizarre story whenever you want to kick back with an endlessly cool experience.
Oozing with Style and Attitude
The art style of Aerial_Knight's Never Yield is immediately eye-catching from the moment you boot the game up. Sharp edges and neon lighting throughout the design give an anime-futuristic feel to the whole game. The soundtrack by Daniel Wilkins shines just as much as the visuals. The music doesn't quite sync up with gameplay like a rhythm game, but fits the pace and look of the game wonderfully.
I'm no music critic. I don't have the vocabulary to talk about what makes the music this game features so awesome. Instead, I'll just say this: seeing that the composer has the Cowboy Bebop OST on vinyl makes perfect sense.
Even the death screen in this game is dripping with attitude. It features big, chunky blocks of black with text asking “Do You Yield?” It's as if the game is trying to intimidate you into giving up. The whole package ends up feeling like a garage-rock-and-hip-hop take on the Persona series' glam stylings.
Short, Snappy Gameplay
The tutorial sequence in Aerial_Knight's Never Yield introduces you to absolutely everything you need to know about the game. You control a character who is running across the screen and has to get past obstacles. As you approach a hazard, the game slows down, zooms in, and even shifts the aspect ratio. Yellow highlights on low obstacles match a yellow glow on an on-screen d-pad's bottom button, letting you know to hit that button to vault over them. Hitting up leaps over red highlighted objects. Objects glow purple when you can slide under them with the down button. Occasionally you'll have something chasing you, at which point you press right to run even faster to outpace them.
From a gameplay perspective, that's really all that you do. The game's 13 levels are all beaten by just using those four inputs to help your character avoid collisions. You end up running through forests, across rooftops, down traffic-jammed highways, and all over a neon-futuristic Detroit with just four buttons.
Thinking about it from a critical perspective, I feel like I should say that it's all a bit simple. The pacing of more intense, but the actual objects you are avoiding get used over and over throughout the game. There are a few distinct environments, but most backdrops end up repeating themselves even in such a short story. I feel like I should say all of these things now, but that's sitting here thinking critically about it. When I was actually playing the game, everything looked and felt so dang good that I didn't care about any of that.
A Strange Story
The short run-time of Aerial_Knight's Never Yield fits with the creator's description of this being a narrative experience. This isn't Temple Run or Subway Surfers, it's a runner that aims for a compact, exciting experience. Short, non-verbal cutscenes fill in the story between levels. These all have the same wonderful look as the rest of the game. While the details feel a bit vague, the game conveys tone really well, despite not using any dialoge.
Right up to the final level I was sure I had figured out what this game was about. The game was obviously about corporate overreach leading to a dystopian future where human bodies were a commodity produced to feed the machine of capitalism. Now, that's a whole lot for a game to tell without using any words. It's quite possible that I was projecting a few of my own views onto it.
I say right up to the end because, in the final level of this game, stuff got weird. Like, really weird. Without giving anything away, the things that happen in the gameplay and the cutscenes at the very end were super interesting, weirdly unsettling, and completely baffling to me.
I loved it.
I don't know what this game is about, but I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to yet. When I interviewed the developer last week, he said “No one knows what’s happening in the story”! I'm hooked by trying to put the pieces together. My next playthrough of this game is going to be all about trying to figure out what's going on.
The closest point of comparison I can think of for the whole experience of Aerial_Knight's Never Yield is Sayonara Wild Hearts. Just like that Apple Arcade launch title, it's a stylish, short runner experience that is pretty upfront with what it asks from the player but still manages to keep the gameplay fun throughout. The music and gameplay don't feel quite as intrinsically connected in Aerial_Knight's Never Yield, but the soundtrack (which is available on vinyl) is still up there with Sayonara Wild Hearts as one of my favorites. For folks looking for high scores, Aerial_Knight's Never Yield pushes you to play it over and over again to try to get the fastest times you can. For me, going back to this game will be more like sitting down to listen to a favorite album again.