When times are at their worst, often that is when evil will choose to strike. Where blizzards never cease to bellow their wintery wilds and frostbitten winds tear and rage at everything in its path, a young girl ventures away from the safety of her starving village to see what could be causing the devastating weather. The path ahead of her is laden with trials and dangers from the deadly jaws of polar bears to strangers ransacking her village to sinking ice caps and tumultuous waters. With naught but her courage and her new found arctic fox companion, they traverse the dangers together with the aid of helpful ancient spirits to see what lies in wait at the end of the blizzards roar.
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna), developed by Upper One Games, is so much more than just a beautiful puzzle/platformer – it is a collaboration of gaming and Native Alaskan folklore told through an interactive experience. The game, however, was not simply a product of devoted research and interviews; but rather had direct involvement with over 40 Native elders, storytellers and community members of the Iñupiat people creating not only an atmospheric and endearing gameplay experience but also including an informative documentary on the culture.
Never Alone allows players to take control of both the young Iñupiat girl, Nuna, and the arctic fox either by switching between the two in single player mode or allowing (and encouraging) playing with a friend through local co-op. The playstyle of each character is different enough to keep things interesting and add an extra layer to the puzzles as each cannot always reach places via the same methods. Nuna has the ability to push objects, climb ropes and use a bolas weapon to break through certain obstacles; whereas the fox has a much better jumping and climbing ability, can fit in small tunnels and also communicate with ancient spirits that aid the two in their difficult journey for survival. The controls are smooth and easy to grasp as Nuna and fox jump, climb, shatter ice and branches, and out maneuver creatures that wish for their demise, though that is not to say there aren’t times where what the characters should do and what they actually do differed (usually leading to a swift, and slightly heart-wrenching death on one part or the other). Luckily, check point saves occur fairly often so there is not much backtracking to be done if a more difficult or timing induced area is encountered.
Aesthetically, the game is absolutely gorgeous. From the airbrushed art style of the main game to the simple sketches of the story’s cutscenes, it all comes together fluidly. Faded out and cloudy edges of the screen give sense of the all encompassing blizzard surrounding everything while soft and vivid tones accentuate danger and safety – a subtle hint that speaks volumes. The overlying story itself is narrated in the Native Iñupiat language almost giving a feeling of listening to a folk tale by the light of the fire as the images come to life in front of your very eyes.
Never Alone offers players a unique chance to experience a culture so very few know much about and does so in an artistic way that really brings everything to life. Available on PC and next gen consoles, it is certainly worth at least one playthrough to experience the beauty and artistry of the game and story (although perhaps not for its full price tag). The game may take a couple of hours to 100% and finish with about 30 minutes of documentary unlockables to be viewed as well either during the playthrough or afterwards. For those with Playstation Plus, Never Alone is free to download for the month of April; so do yourself a favor and spend a little time with this one. Between the endearing affection and trust between Nuna and the fox and the overall passion the developers imbued within every moment, it truly speaks for itself.
Always remember that no matter what happens, you are never truly alone.