Never Alone is based on a folk tale about a child named Nuna. Nuna is an Iñupiat, a term used to describe the Alaskan Indigenous. Nuna’s village is in danger and thrown into turmoil by what feels like a never ending blizzard. Nuna must discover the source of the cold weather in order to save her own village. Nuna is accompanied by a white arctic fox who can assist her in her journey too, just to nail home the interdependent nature of the Iñupiat people.
While Never Alone might not be the most intense or complicated of games it represents a very unique collaboration and principle. The game was developed in conjunction with input with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, a not for profit organisation who are dedicated to working with the Iñupiat people of Alaska.
It’s an interesting concept and one that the game draws its main story from – which is serviceable. The true highlight here is the video vignettes that discuss and describe aspects of Iñupiat culture or elements of that game you’ve just experienced or are about to experience. It is worth mentioning that the game itself is easily eclipsed by these vignettes, however.
Never Alone is a pretty great looking game, If slightly simplistic. The entire game is presented in a haze like state that gives it a dream like quality while also masking any of the limitations the game might have due to its budget or simplistic design. Being largely set in a snowy and arctic maelstrom, the snow is definitely the highlight here. It moves and reacts realistically to Nuna’s movements. Some of the later set pieces in the game look pretty fantastic and help to break up the monotony you’d come to expect from a game based almost entirely in snow – but it would be a crime to spoil them here.
The soundtrack is similarly quite a strong offering that emphasises the meditative tone the visuals help to set. Most of the pieces on offer here are very sombre and help to set the atmosphere of the game perfectly. The voice work is similarly quite strong helping to set the tone for several key scenes throughout the game.
Never Alone is more or less a typical two dimensional platformer. Players move from the left to the right of the screen in pursuit of a goal of some sort while solving simple puzzles along the way. Nuna is the main character that players will control, but during certain times in the game they’ll have to control Nuna’s fox companion too, who can move and jump faster and farther, respectively.
It’s somewhat obvious that the developers may have taken some light inspiration from Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons in the way that you’re tasked to switch between these characters to solve puzzle. Of course, as you’d expect, each of the characters have their own abilities too. Nuna has access to certain pieces of equipment (as she acquires them throughout the story) whereas the Fox can communicate with the spirits of the natural world. Doing so creates platforms for Nuna to traverse dangerous areas with.
And while it sounds like a pretty sound and simple concept on paper, it’s simply too simplistic to be majorly engrossing. If you’re stuck in an area, chances are you’ve just got to switch to the Fox and run around aimlessly until a spirit appears and opens up the linear path for Nuna. If that’s not the problem, you’re probably playing as the Fox and Nuna is needed to set off some arbitrary trigger to progress the story. What I’m trying to say is that it’s rarely a point in the game where you’ll be blocked by an organic obstacle, it’s almost always going to be something due to questionable design decisions by the developer.
And then there’s some moments in the game that just seem to peddle frustration more than anything. During a section of the game where you’re treated to a rather interesting visual display, enemies will commonly lurch in and take either Nuna or her Fox away. It’d be less annoying if it was something we could control, but when the enemies in this area can take away the (poorly programmed) AI character, it’s just plain frustrating. Similarly, the developers chose to implement a change in game mechanics literally during the final boss battle which seems baffling and jarring.
Whether or not this is meant to be remedied by playing the game in co-operative mode where one player players as Nuna and the other as the Fox is a non-issue, as the game has its fair share of problems for anyone not wanting to do so. Still, it’s not necessarily a bad game, just marred by a few disappointing and baffling design decisions. But it’s definitely one to be played co-operatively if you can – as the AI will commonly fall behind or not even jump when they’re supposed to which can get frustrating.
But just be warned that Never Alone isn’t an incredibly lengthy experience. Most players will take less than six hours, maybe even four, to see the end of Nuna’s adventure. But it’s still an incredibly enlightening experience – the twenty or so videos that are unlocked throughout were genuinely interesting and it’s rare I can walk away from a video game having learnt so much. But there’s little reason to return to the adventure once you’ve finished it as most of the unlockable videos will be found through natural play.