Never Gone, a recently-released 99¢ mobile game from Hippie Games, is a prime example of a game that has great potential. The game has a great soundtrack, nice visuals, and promises some rather impressive gameplay. That promise, however, is largely unfulfilled as Never Gone winds up being a game that falls well short of just how good it could have been.
A side-scrolling beat-em-up game, Never Gone takes its cues from titles such as Final Fight and (more recently) Dragon's Crown. It also spices things up by borrowing some of its more stylish elements from games like aesthetics inspired by Devil May Cry and some light RPG elements that allow players to develop and progress their characters. Unfortunately, the ultimate product is lackluster thanks to a handful of too-big-to-ignore flaws that bring the whole thing down a few notches.
Combat is a major part of Never Gone and the game boasts a rather deep combo system that rewards improvisation. Sadly, a heavy emphasis on style tends to get in the way of overall gameplay. Things run very smooth as the game doesn't seem to suffer any framerate slowdowns on the iPhone 6 but there seems to be a disconnect between on-screen touch controls and results. Truly, Never Gone is a game that would be much better being played with a traditional gamepad rather than the on-screen touch controls that it currently employs. This would probably be remedied should the game get ported to console and/or PC at some point in the future thanks to those platforms lacking smartphone-like touch controls altogether.
Character customization and power-ups are an enjoyable aspect of Never Gone. Indeed, early on in the game it is a major drive to want to do well. In the long run, however, enemies outpace the player's character and the game slows to an unpleasant grind against overpowered baddies that suck the fun right out. While this could very well be a ploy to encourage players to purchase the game's IAP currency for a pay-to-win type of situation, those who think the buck they spent on the game to begin with is enough money spent on it will find themselves banging their heads against the wall trying to progress with any sort of success after a certain point.
For the most part, levels are quite short. They're full of enemies to defeat but ultimately do not last all that long. Then again, for the pick-up-and-put-down nature of mobile gaming, that's likely by design. Every few levels there will be a boss fight. Boss fights are tough. Those who are ill prepared due to character stats or skill will likely find themselves meeting an untimely end at this point. At the end of any given level are essentially loot drops. These drops include new gear, consumables, crafting materials, and so on. What you get seems fairly random. Of course, the game's best stuff can be acquired by spending the game's premium currency (and a lot of it).
With an A/V presentation reminiscent of games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, players will probably love the look and sound of Never Gone. The horror-like visuals coupled with a gothic symphonic soundtrack prove to be a great combination. Characters and enemies alike are likewise appealing, as are the levels themselves. Hippie Games really knocked it out of the park in this department.
Overall, Never Gone seems more like a free-to-play game than a purchased one -- even if that purchase price is only one dollar. Even then, it's a bumpy ride thanks to the underwhelming feel of combat and its balancing issues. There are worse games on the App Store, that's to be certain. Never Gone just isn't one of the better ones.
Final Score: 6 out of 10