Published on November 22nd, 2014 | by Ari Nellen0
Ari Reviews Never Alone the Game
Never Alone is really important, games before have been used as therapy, helping train people for dangerous jobs, and now games are helping to conserve culture. The Iñupiat people of Alaska have a tale called Kunuuksaayuk, where a boy saves his village from the never-ending blizzards that has caused all hunting to stop. Never Alone takes that story, narrates it in the Iñupiat language, and gives it to the gamer wrapped in these beautiful graphics as a platformer.
You play as two characters (or if you have a friend you can share these roles), an arctic fox and a Iñupiat girl. You solve platforming style puzzles and become immersed in the Iñupiat’s lore, culture and language. The game’s collectable items unlock short videos about the Iñupiat people told by the Iñupiat people, which you can play immediately within the game or from the menu screen.
The game is intensely beautiful with glowing white and blue backgrounds, and the light and white snow storms giving an almost ethereal feel to the landscape. But it’s not only the gorgeous graphics that the game feels artistic and aesthetically composed, but in the very fluid animations of the arctic fox and of both characters swimming. Looking at the game’s video of the arctic fox makes you realise how much effort was put into getting that movement right.
Also you’ll note that the boy from the Kunuuksaayuk story is now a girl and, obviously, a POC girl. This this small gender change is great step towards increasing diversity in an arena which is so often white, male dominated.
The Never Alone is very short, and can be finished in an evening. And there are a few bugs in the PC version that you’ll come across. The main ones are glitchy death animations but there are also more frustrating ones like getting stuck in wall. The game does a good job of telling the player what objects are to be interacted with, and where the path lies. However if you stray from this, as you might try to explore, you’ll find places where you’ll jump through walls and get stuck off screen. Sometimes you’ll die but more often you’ll just wiggle the joystick trying to get back. Most of the times I bugged out like this, I’d have to start the checkpoint over.
The most intensely annoying thing though is the pathing for the characters. Playing by myself meant that the other character would follow my movements. As a platformer I’d sometimes find the PC controlled character would throw itself into harms way, sometimes fall into crevices, or path off an important moving platform. This becomes agonisingly obvious when you have timed events.
While these are all negatives they don’t distract too much from the gaming experience. The checkpoints are numerous, and so the frustration is minimal. And, in the case of pathing issues, you’re not going to see them if you’re playing co-op. The game also isn’t too hard and so there are no intense areas where progress being lost would really frustrate.
While the game is short, I think any longer and the padding would ruin the retelling of Kunuuksaayuk. In fact the extra elements to the story (the addition of the Manslayer) are almost unwelcome, since it feels disparate from the main tale: though not so much as to ruin the journey that Never Alone takes you on.
While the game is easy, I thinks that just allows the game to become accessible to more people. I played Never Alone alone, but you really should play it with someone else. For me Never Alone is the best kind of game to share with the ‘uninitiated’ friend or sibling or parent or grandparent of the gaming world. It’s beautiful, it’s not too challenging and you can play it together. That’s really the meat and bones of this game, it wants you to share it, it wants to be completely accessible to most people. Never Alone isn’t going to help keep the Iñupiat culture vitalised unless it’s passed on to more players.
I think Never Alone succeeds fully in what it set out to do, tell a traditional tale that can engage a wide audience. While the bugs can be annoying, it won’t cause you to lose momentum or interest in the game. I’m not suggesting you pick up the game because of it’s lofty goals, I’m telling you to play Never Alone because it’s good fun with a friend and you’ll learn about a cool-as culture as you go.