Indie games are, without a doubt, the most creative and experimental whirlpool for gamers to dive into if they are looking for something other than the latest AAA blockbuster release. It also follows that the people behind these games are some of the most creative and talented in the industry, and Neil Jones is no exception. He is the sole developer and creator of Never Yield, a side-scrolling auto-runner that emphasizes quick decision-making and replaying levels for the fastest time imaginable. The tight gameplay, absolutely stellar soundtrack, and vibrant design all combine for a very fun time, whether you’re playing for one hour or ten.
The very first thing you’ll notice about Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield is the music. Right away you’re placed into the game, and immediately the soundtrack starts to hook you in with a bright, electric trumpet leading the way. Never Yield does a great job of simply getting down to it, while intuitively teaching you the only four functions you’ll need throughout the entire game.
Sliding, high jumping, dashing, and volleying over, under, and through obstacles are the only four mechanics you have control over in Never Yield. The core gameplay loop is being able to run straight through each level without tripping up on anything in your path for the fastest time possible. Once you run into a low wall or fail to slide under a table, you’re given a cheeky “Do you yield?” message, and replying “Never” puts you back at your most recent checkpoint. It’s something I really loved because I like it when games really encourage me directly with little touches like that. It’s especially helpful when playing on the Insane difficulty, since you’ll most likely be seeing that screen quite a bit.
The speedrunning element to Never Yield helps give it an incredible amount of replayability, particularly because the gameplay is so entwined with the music that when you run through a level without making a single mistake, it feels absolutely spectacular. The soundtrack is just that good; it almost breaks your heart a little more when you die because you’ve interrupted it. That’s another important thing to note; I never felt like I failed a section because of something the game did. Every death was the result of a mistake I made, and the checkpoints were generous enough that I would always be able to remember where my mistake was to know for next time.
As much as Never Yield truly shines in multiple aspects, particularly the soundtrack, my favourite aspect of this game has to be the level design. You’ll be avoiding everything from rocks, to drones, to missiles, giant saw blades and inconveniently placed chest-high walls. Most of my playthroughs have been on the normal difficulty level, partly due to my old trophy hunting itch kicking in once I had a gander at the list. It was a very fun platinum to earn, and I still love jumping into old levels looking to improve my time. It’s such a focused experience that it makes for a great quick gaming session or a full day spent meticulously shaving off precious seconds to get your level times down.
Speaking of those levels, part of the reason they won’t become tiring is because they are all so vibrant, and while you’ll be speeding past much of the world, the environmental storytelling from the obstacles and enemies in your way to the bright “wanted” billboards with your face at play makes it all feel very realized and lived in. The narrative is told only through the short cutscenes at the beginning of each level, and the music, which was written by Daniel Wilkins.
This creates an incredible sense of mystery and a journey of discovery the player then goes through, with each next level unveiling a little more about what’s happening and perhaps why exactly we’re running everywhere. Figuring out the narrative was also something I extremely enjoyed, and continue to enjoy the more I learn. What I will say though is you’re on the run from an organization, and you can’t stop running, or else they’ll take what’s in your bag.
If there is anything I could ask of Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield, it would just be more. If Jones is so inclined, I would personally be more than keen to play different levels down the line, and see how much further he can push the boundaries of the level design for Never Yield. I’d also of course like to hear more tracks from Daniel Wilkins, which these theoretical new levels would hopefully come with. Even without extra levels beyond the 13 you get, there is still plenty of gameplay to be had in Never Yield.
Each of these levels—with the slow-mo effect on—can take roughly three to four minutes on a clean run, though you’ll have few of those your first time through. Their length is what makes them perfect to return to with a speedrunning mindset, but if you’ve no interest in scaling the leaderboards, then rolling credits on Never Yield won’t take you more than a couple of hours.
Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield is nothing short of an incredible vision and idea executed perfectly. It’s this that makes the reality of Never Yield’s origins a mix of upsetting and uplifting; Neil Jones has spent the last decade as a Black developer doing his best to make it in an industry that he recognized wasn’t making space for him, so he decided to do it himself. If you’d like to learn more about Neil Jones and his journey, I highly recommend reading his recent interview with GamesIndustry.Biz. More than just signing his work by putting his username in the title, Jones is fully stating to the rest of the world that he quite literally will never yield when it comes to doing what he loves to do, and releasing this game is proof of that.
[A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review]