When it comes to games, many of the stories or situations will feel familiar to us in some way, mainly due to being in touch with the cultural and societal themes behind them. However there are many stories that we don’t know out in the world, of myths and legends that have never crossed our paths because of how removed they are from us.
Some of those stories originate in one of the most isolated places on our planet, in this case the Alaska Native people known as the Iñupiat, who live in the northern reaches of Alaska, bordering the Arctic.
This is where the game Never Alone, also known as Kisima Ingitchuna comes in. The game itself is a retelling of an Iñupiat story known as Kunuuksaayuka, which revolves around an incredibly strong blizzard that never seems to end. In Never Alone you take on the roles of Nuna, a young Iñupiat girl, and Fox, who is an Arctic fox. Together, the two embark on a journey to save Nuna’s village from the cause of the blizzard, as well as an individual who poses a danger to everyone.
Never Alone is a puzzle platformer with both characters having their own talents to solve problems. Nuna can move crates to create platforms, as well as use her weapon, the Bola, to break ice and open new paths. Meanwhile, Fox can crawl through small gaps and get to higher ledges by scrambling up walls, as well as guide the helpful spirits in the story so they can become platforms for Nuna to cross. Working together, the pair walk, run, swim and slide across the land.
When playing solo, you can switch between characters at the push of a button to solve puzzles, so that while it occasionally felt like some puzzles were designed for two people to solve together, they can still be done if you move fast enough. Overall the puzzles themselves are quite easy to solve, but there were instances were it felt like there weren’t any clues on what to do next, though after thinking things through for a bit the solutions eventually became obvious to me. Playing with someone else does make the game more fun, as you discover solutions collaboratively and help each other combat the dangers coming for you.
There are moments in the game when Nuna and Fox have to run as fast as possible from an enemy. Considering the two can’t really fight back, and both characters have to utilise the skills they have, such as Nuna breaking ice with her bola to clear a path. These moments can get quite tense due to how quickly the danger can run towards you, and there were times I felt rushed and panicked. But some of that was down to the use of the bola itself.
On the PS4 you use the right analog stick to aim and throw the weapon, rotating the stick to aim and then flicking it in the direction you want to release. This system, though simple to learn, was a bit hard to master and wasn’t without some issues, like when I went to throw the bola and the game thought I had just stopped aiming, resetting the throw in the process. Jumping also felt a bit heavy at times meaning you could miss a platform by mere millimetres. Thankfully, the checkpoint system is very forgiving, so you won’t end up going too far back.
While there are some issues with the game there are more many great things about Never Alone. First of all, the art of the game is incredibly nice to look upon, especially scenes where the blizzard is blowing. You see the changes in the wind through the way each snowflake behaves. Then you have the designs of Alaska itself and the characters, which all looks incredible. Much of the game is grey and white due to the environment, but when splashes of colour appear it really makes an impact, with the Northern Lights particularly striking.
The game is narrated by an Iñupiat elder in the native tongue of the people, and the language itself flows so beautifully. The music, though not incredibly memorable, sets the tone of Never Alone, but it’s the sound of the environments that really helps to engross you, especially the noise of the blizzard and the wind.
Another great thing about Never Alone is the short videos, called Cultural Insights, that you unlock about the Iñupiat, their lives, and their history. In the game you can collect owls, each of which unlocks one of the 24 videos. These feature interviews with members of the Iñupiat, and each of them in turn tells you about the culture and how the people adapted to the land, as well as insights into the group’s beliefs. These mini documentaries are very educational and I found myself always searching for the owls, just so I could learn more about the Alaska Natives and their way of life. The people in the videos really know how to draw you in, and there’s also some fantastic cinematography too.
Overall Never Alone is a really good mix of ideas, and could be the start of a kind of docu-game trend, with the inclusion of the Cultural Insights. While there are a few tweaks to the gameplay that should be made, Never Alone is certainly worth your time, and manages to tell so much within the four or so hours it takes to complete. Nuna & Fox’s story is wonderfully told through the native tongue of the Iñupiat, accompanied by artwork inspired by the tribe’s drawings and etchings, and brought to life by the beautiful designed of the environments and characters.
Version Tested: PS4