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Never Alone demonstrates a great objective as it joins the Inupiat natives and elders to share their stories about the Alaska they know and live in via insights scattered across the game world meshed with an adventure puzzle platformer. These insights link together to create something of a documentary that not only talks about their lifestyle and practices but also dives into their beliefs and how they see nature and the natural elements.
Check out the first 15 minutes of gameplay below:
Upper One Games revolves these insights around a story of a little girl that decides to find the origin of an eternal blizzard that is threatening their survival. The backstory relates to our character, a little girl Nuna and her arctic fox, Fox who takes on the same mission. Along the way, she meets various characters including a villain that attacks her village and follows her in hopes of taking back an item, the bola, which helps Nuna crumble obstacles blocking her way. As she moves through the different areas, the environments change and just like Journey, the closer we get to the origin of the blizzard, she has to battle heavier storm situations.
The stories within the story tell a lot about this Alaskan community, and are perhaps the best part of this game. For such a small game, we traverse over some very creative environments and grow to connect well with Nuna and Fox. The story itself is captivating and adventurous, taking us on a journey that requires cleverly-deciphering puzzles with the help of Fox. With that said, Never Alone can be played as single player controlling two characters or as a co-op experience, but can only speak for the single player experience, one that moves rather smoothly between the two with a press of a button. However, there is also knowing how to position our characters in the later chapters to be able to dodge enemies. Some of the more challenging levels are those revolving the meaning of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and the story that they tell. In the final third of the game, there is a change in dynamic which attempts to breath a refreshing twist to the events.
Never Alone does suffer a bit from its often too challenging and at times, frustrating moments. The controls can be a little laggy and there is also a lack of accuracy to using the bola. In less urgent moments, this isn’t a problem, however there are chase scenes with polar bears or the villainous man that is very reliant on how fast and accurate we can clear the obstacles from our path to move forward. If not, then we need to play over and over again until we can achieve this by chance. In the final third, with the change of the mechanics for Fox because of the story arc, this change becomes incredibly frustrating because of the lag in the controls. It creates an obscure trial and error sort of feeling which also falls short in boss battles or chase sequences.
Never Alone later released an additional downloadable content called Fox Tales, which also take Nuna and Fox on a journey that tells a story about caring for life as a whole as they chase down a mouse for fun and forget the meaning of respecting everything in nature equally and is eventually being preyed on by the spirit of mice which is a giant water rat. Fox Tales is a short little game that tells a simple story with a great message about the values of the Inupiat of respecting everything around us regardless of how big or small. Its tells about that they can only hunt with a purpose of survival and never taunt their existence. Fox Tales has many of the faults however it does focus heavily on figuring out clever puzzles and spends a lot of time in water levels which are always a challenging aspect in many games.
Despite some shortcomings, Never Alone is a meaningful and educational experience. The concept of merging a game with learning about important events in the world is not unknown but it does raise the appeal of those more reluctant to sit down and watch a documentary. Never Alone remembers that games are meant to be challenging. By merging stories into new environments we encounter, and adding the freedom of simply knowing to use the weather to solve puzzles, or when to switch between characters to use teamwork, adds a thoughtful and clever layer. This is a storytelling game at its heart and one that is suitable for all ages (except perhaps for some darker sections). Kids will find it fun to watch a little girl and a cute fox jump through chasms and traverse icy landscapes and enjoy the appealing aspects of it while adults will seek the challenges of solving puzzles in this adventure. Never Alone is a unique experience and one that is well worth your time.
Never Alone is available on PS3, PS4, Xbox One, WiiU, PC, Android and iOS.
Game description: Never Alone, also called Kisima Innitchuna, is a 2014 adventure platformer game and documentary piece that takes a look into the lives of Alaska’s natives. We also take a look at their additional downloadable content, Foxtales.