Never Alone is like games that have come before it and also quite unlike anything I’ve played before. For me what really sets it apart is having the story told through members of the Iñupiaq tribe in their native language with authentic artwork and learning through mini documentaries detailing different parts of their culture and life in Alaska. Upper One Games and E-Line Media spent over 2 1/2 years working with 40+ native elders, storytellers, and artists to create an authentic atmosphere that sucks you into these Alaskan peoples’ way of life and culture. The plot for Never Alone is based on the folk legend of Kunuuksaayuka and lends itself well to a game adaptation. The soundtrack is soothing and the visuals and art direction are beautiful from the deep blue of the ocean to the memorizing vistas of the Northern Lights.
You start out as a young girl named Nuna whose village is suffering in the wake of a harsh blizzard and has taken it upon herself to investigate and find the source that threatens her people. Along the way you meet an Artic fox who becomes your companion and the two of you venture together through a very frigid and bleak set of environments. Nuna’s move set will be familiar to anyone who has played a platform game, she can run, jump, crouch, move boxes, and use a weapon called a bola to break ice barriers. Fox on the other hand can scale walls, leap further, fit into tight spaces, and most importantly summon and control ancient spirits to help reach places they could not have previously reached. Often times the spirit is in a spherical form out of Nuna’s range and Fox must bring it towards her. When he does she can throw her bola at it and it turns into a platform ready to be commanded by Fox. You won’t encounter many physical enemies as most of them are environemntal like wind, moving platforms, freezing water, ice barriers, and the occasional chase sequence that has you navigating through all of them while trying not to get caught. The environment isn’t solely your enemy, however, and there are instances where you’ll use the wind and moving platforms to reach other areas. Unlike most other platformers there is next to nothing to collect and you’re granted endless lives with a generous checkpoint system. The only collectibles are professional mini documentaries you unlock that often relate to wherever you are in the story and are told by the Iñupiaq people themselves. These insights add to the overall authenticity of the experience and are a fun way to learn. Not only do you unlock a gold trophy after watching all the videos, but you gain knowledge about a way of life you may not have previously been aware of.
You wouldn’t be able to get through a level with either character individually so it’s all about teamwork from beginning to end. When Fox activates a spirit that Nuna can climb/ride/hang on he has to maintain a close proximity to her or the spirit will disappear which often results in Nuna falling to her death. As expected levels are designed to keep you both separated and if you’re playing the game solo as I did it can become frustrating. My main annoyance was the spotty AI that would walk off of a platform for no apparent reason or jump into some sort of hazard. It’s worth noting these occurrences were few and far between and the developer has diligently updated the game with bug fixes and thorough release notes. I found myself wishing I was playing with another person as the game supports local co-op which is rare nowadays and I feel like I may have had a bit less of a frustrating experience towards the end. Also don’t expect to spend a lot of time in the frozen world as it can easily be beat in an evening or two which is fine by me. I’ve spent $60 on games with longer campaign lengths that I have yet to see through to completion for various reasons. (that might be a topic for a future post) At the time of writing I have unlocked 20 of the 24 available mini documentaries and plan on going back to seek out the remaining 4.
All things considered I enjoyed my time with Never Alone even if it is short and sweet it was also wholly rewarding both emotionally and educationally. And while it lacks replayability, it’s a game I’d venture through again down the road and one you should too if you haven’t already done so.