Title: Never Alone
Platform: Steam, Windows, PS4, Xbox One
Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Puzzle, Platformer
Players: Single player, Local Co Op
Written by Whistler 26th November 2014
It’s comforting to know that devs still care and are willing to make some great platformers like 1001 Spikes, Rayman Legends and even some under the radar titles like You Want to Win the Game. A particular branch off of this is the puzzle platformer (pretty much the only half decent sub-
And now we have a humble addition developed by Upper One Games with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council called Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa).
While many of us are aware of the Alaskan natives, so much of their culture is buried in misconceptions, Never Alone tackle this by offering us a very respectful presentation of the Iñupiaq culture while at the same time delivering a narrative experience that us outsiders can understand and relate to.
Drawing from the folklore legend of Kunuuksaayuka, Never Alone is a side scrolling puzzle orientated platformer that follows the tale of a young Alaskan native girl who gets lost in a snow storm and upon meeting an artic fox creates a strong bond with the small creature. The duo then embark on an artic journey of fellowship, bravery, sorrow and joy that is brilliantly interwoven with insightful stories into Iñupiaq culture.
Similar to Limbo, the gameplay is relatively straight forward with a twist that you can alternate between Nuna (the girl) and the white fox, utilizing their abilities hand in hand to progress or you can grab a second controller and have yourselves some couch Co Op adventures.
Both characters can run, jump and can brace the ground to withstand the gusts of wind encountered regularly throughout the experience; Nuna being a young child cannot jump very high nor far but can move heavy objects and eventually gains a bola enabling her to break icy surfaces. The white fox can jump for surface to surface, throw down rope to Nuna and serves as both her symbolic and functional connection to the spirit world, conjuring ethereal beings as platforms by staying near them in order to help the duo reach areas that would be otherwise unreachable.
While puzzles don’t necessarily shift beyond this pattern they are varied enough that it expands upon your thought process, tacking on more obstacles and requiring the companions to work in sync to best these challenges based or inspired by Iñupiaq myth.
Once again while simple the visuals are a sight to behold, weaving a connection between a strong cultural mythology and solid level design, environments conjure up beautiful set pieces like Alaskan snowfields, blackened seas surrounded in ice to more surreal moments like the belly of a giant creature and a deserted village played host to a passing of phantom beings from overhead.
Along with the game’s visuals and story we’re handed little bite sized documentative videos called ‘cultural insights’, while I usually detest videos in video games, here it scratches my intrigue into the culture teaching me as I play as well as offering insights into my current surroundings in-
Through these videos I learned of the strong community driven culture the Iñupiaq people live by, tales of how a boy and his father felt the stress and fear of being stuck on an thick ice cap that was adrift, and the mythology of the little people. These videos not only serve as informative tidbits but also helped me immerse myself into this strange world that is familiar to others.
However no matter how great a narrative experience is, it only serves to make the faults all the more apparent. Regularly you’ll notice your companion’s AI isn’t quite up to scratch, mistiming steps and even just outright refusing to move (even with a giant polar bear right behind them) often causing frustration that wasn’t at the fault of the player. This is pretty much the only fault I can give Never Alone though and honestly it doesn’t harm the experience too much seeing as you have infinite tries and usually a death only sets you back a minute so you won’t be having to tread through already beaten sections.
Even while the experience is short, it is still a great unique experience.
It does sadly mean puzzles don’t evolve all that much but at the same time it means they aren’t overused nor does the gameplay grow stale. Never Alone is a fantastic narrative tale that is both immersive and thought provoking experience which is only ever hindered by the occasional gameplay faults and short length that doesn’t quite make as strong an emotional connection as titles like Journey or Limo did but is still a fantastic title nonetheless that serves as a very promising debut title for Upper One Games.
Thought provoking narrative,
Simple enjoyable gameplay,
Both informative and fun.
Puzzles aren’t expanded upon much,
Occasionally haphazard AI.
Never Alone is great, I just wish it had been a bit longer but 3 hours and for a 6/10 experience will do.