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May 2021

Never Breakup

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: indienova
Developer: ISVR
Release Date: July 16, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Never Breakup'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 29, 2020 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

Never Breakup is a relaxing family game for two players. Play with your friends, lover, or even parents; it is tons of fun for both young and old alike.

In video games, co-op is usually similar to going solo except someone else is present at the same time. Everyone is free to go where they want and do what they want, so long as it ultimately benefits the group. Rarely does a co-op game force you to be tied together to do something, but we have seen the concept in solo games like Knuckles Chaotix for the Sega 32X and Whiplash for the PS2 and Xbox. Never Breakup is the latest game to play with the concept of having two parties physically linked together to accomplish objectives, and the result is mixed at best.

In a move that's still considered rare nowadays, there is no story in Never Breakup. There are no names and no given reason for your grand adventure through the world. This isn't necessarily bad, but if you're looking for the narrative to provide you with the thinnest shred of motivation, you're out of luck.

The game casts you and a friend as two animals that are tied to one another in a ball form. The different animals are cosmetic, since none of them have different abilities. Your goal in each of the 42 given stages, spread across six worlds, is to make it to the large bowl at the end of the stage. You'll deal with standard platforming hazards like bottomless pits, disappearing floors, enemies, and poison traps. You'll also come across switches that are used to open doors.

Both of the animals in the duo have some basic abilities, both animals can jump to a decent height, and either animal is capable of carrying boxes that can be used as platforms to reach some spots. One animal can inhale their partner and spit them at enemies, much like the titular hero of the Kirby series — but doing so won't kill the animal that's being used as a projectile.

The innovative gameplay mechanic comes from you and your partner being connected by a rope. It obviously limits how far you can go before being forced to drag the other with you, and there are cases where it can hinder your movement since the rope gets tangled on some objects. You can save your partner from doom if you're still on solid ground by grounding yourself and then using a button to pull them back to safety. This pulling mechanic can also drag your friend through an entrance before the door closes.

The idea could be fleshed out further, but Never Breakup doesn't lets its ideas get that far. You can't have one player ground themselves, while the other tries to gain some momentum to bring themselves back up, and you can't use the rope to drag objects to the correct spots. There's rarely a time when you need to go separate routes simultaneously, unless you want to grab coins to unlock more animals and their hats. There are even fewer instances of real co-op strategies being employed thoughtfully, such as being forced to shoot your partner over a gap so you can get pulled in later without worrying about a disappearing floor and a falling billboard blocking your path.

More than half of the game feels like it was designed without co-op in mind, which apparent when you see how many sections feel impossible in co-op but easy to conquer when there's only one animal present. You can get through a huge part of the game by carrying your partner in your mouth instead of worrying about them dying or slowing you down, and that destroys the appeal of this being a co-op focused game. Strangely enough, playing Never Breakup solo is quite boring because there are enough co-op sections that require you to frequently switch control of characters; it makes the game feel arbitrarily longer.

Beyond this misjudged co-op design, Never Breakup has a few other issues that show a lack of polish, no matter how helpful some of the bugs are. For example, you can completely mess up the timing to get both animals across an opening before the door closes, but you can easily rectify that by having one animal move so far ahead that they magically pull their partner through solid objects (and emerge unscathed). The free-moving camera sometimes moves so slowly that it can be a pain to rotate it to get the correct angle. Earning a new character or hat is fine until you learn that you need to exit the game to make that character change. There's also the fact that the translation from Chinese to English is clumsy. You'll understand what they're trying to say, but the structure is convoluted enough that you'll both laugh and groan while reading it.

In addition to the main campaign, there are three minigames, but all of them must be unlocked by finding a number of trophies that are placed out of the way in multiple levels. There's a battle mode where you pick up weapons and try to kill the competition. There's one minigame where you need to collect the most carrots before time runs out, and there's another that emulates a simple, single-screen version of soccer. The minigames feel unsatisfying when you consider the effort it takes to unlock them; the minigames will grant new hats , but the requirement to play each minigame 50 times is way too steep of a price for what you ultimately get.

The presentation is fine. The environments look decent, but there's nothing spectacular about them, especially since falling down bottomless pits can reveal parts of the world that you weren't meant to see. Enemies look bland, while your animal friends look rather grotesque when you're on the character select screen. The ball shape rarely makes any of them look cute, and their animations are reminiscent of the opening screen in Super Mario 64 where you could stretch out part of Mario's face. It looks odd in practice, but none of it matters when you can't see those details while playing the game — and that also renders the hat choices pointless. As for the audio, the lack of vocal calls from the animals is a boon, and the sound effects are decent, while the music sounds fine but is a poor fit for the environments. It all seems slapped together without any regard for whether it all fits.

You can't help but coming away from Never Breakup with mixed feelings. The concept remains novel, and there are a number of stages to make the experience feel meaty, even without a narrative. While the player can get used to the wobbly controls, the lack of variety in the co-op challenges — and the sense that a number of areas don't seem to be designed with the co-op concept in mind — robs the game of any fun. It isn't a terrible co-op title, but you're better served by going with other co-op experiences first.

Score: 5.5/10

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