Compelling, Imperfect, & Beautiful.
Never Alone Reviewed
by Marcus Estrada[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ever Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) is a puzzle platformer, but to say only that much ignores its amazing contribution to the gaming arena. The story follows a young girl and a fox as they brave the Alaskan tundra on an incredible (and incredibly dangerous) adventure. While gameplay itself might be routine, it’s in the focus on Iñupiat people, their culture, and folklore that Never Alone develops a very distinct personality.
First, let’s go over the gameplay itself. The game is presented from a 2D perspective although all objects themselves are rendered in 3D. Most of the time you’ll be running from left to right as is decidedly the norm in platformers. Near the beginning, young Nuna is saved by an arctic fox. From then on the creature follows along and also proves an important character as well. Together the characters can jump, climb, and make their way through the landscape.
Yes, Never Alone was created with local co-op in mind. On PC this is doable by having one player on keyboard while the other uses a gamepad. There doesn’t appear to be a way to rebind keys, though, so watch out for that. Of course, it is possible to still play the game in single player. In fact, that’s what I did. There are some issues with the character AI, unfortunately. On one occasion I even had to activate co-op mode and control both characters myself just to avoid a game over state. Every so often the AI-controlled character will make mistakes but usually they prove to be reliable partners.
The two cooperating together is necessary to succeed. The fox, for example, can reach heights Nuna cannot and then drop ropes down to her. On the other hand, Nuna is able to move boxes and the like. Perhaps the most unique feature of all though is the fox’s ability to make spirits appear – and then use their spectral forms as new platforms. It’s very cool, and looks really neat too. In fact, all of Never Alone has a very distinct visual appearance. The scrimshaw cutscenes, as well as the icy subdued color scheme, really emphasize the game’s Iñupiat influence.
A big reason that Never Alone is able to channel this Alaskan Native influence is because developer Upper One Games directly collaborated with Iñupiat people. Elders, storytellers, and the current generation of people growing up there were able to bring their stories and insight and see that reflected within the final game. In many ways, this game serves as an introduction to many about these people and their culture. Like one of the very first video states, the biggest mistake people make is thinking that they are a “museum” piece rather than an active, thriving part of the global community.
Cultural Insight videos are peppered throughout the world as collectibles. Once you find one you can watch a video to learn even more about Alaskan Native culture than what the game itself can share. It’s very engaging and as such is a shame that the gameplay itself cannot always measure up. Beyond sometimes iffy AI, the main controls can prove unresponsive just when you need them to perform perfectly. Even so, Never Alone feels worth those bits of frustration to see it through to the end. It shares a beautiful bit of folklore and even teaches players something in the process.[divider] Pixel Pacas. Writing about video games is something he hopes to continue doing for many years to come. Some of Marcus’s favorite games include Silent Hill 2, Killer7, and The Sims. [/author]