Release Date: 18th November (Steam, PSN, Xbox Live)
The rise of the “indie game” seems to have no end. People (including myself) assumed it was a fad, which would die once the big publishers started to get their act together with the new set of consoles. Titles such as Never Alone prove the movement isn’t going anywhere and it’s starting to become the avenue in which we experience genuinely heart warming, moving and sometimes quite unique experiences, even if that experience is a little rough around the edges.
In the first few minutes of Never Alone, you know that you’re about to dive into something special and crafted with love and respect for its source material. The game was developed in collaboration with the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people. Native elders, storytellers and community members all contributed to the development of the game. You can feel this wonderful collaboration almost instantly through the introduction of the story, told via beautiful moving artwork and all spoken in Iñupiaq language. Throughout the game you also unlock short videos, which delve into just how the project was created, along with exploring the inspiration behind some of the games features and characters.
The game centres around a young Iñupiat girl called Nuna and her Arctic fox companion. An eternal blizzard is destroying Nuna’s Alaskan village, she takes it upon herself to travel to the source of this storm and restore the balance, with her fox friend in toe. This tale is based on Alaskan indigenous folklore and its easy to see the care which has been taken to tell this story right.
Never Alone is a 2-D platform puzzler and does little to deviate from the path of the genre. You take control of both Nuna and the fox as you explore the snow filled horizon. You will find yourself mostly in control of the young girl, with her sidekick having to fill in for those hard to reach high and low places. The weather also plays a part in the platforming; with both our heroes needing to brace themselves for incoming storms and at times needing to use the wind to wisk them onto some areas. Overall however you will find little really new here game-play wise which hasn’t been done before elsewhere and with slightly better execution (think Limbo). The puzzles found in the game though can be really challenging and with no hint system to speak of, some of these may take a while before you realise just how creative you need to be in order to progress.
Swapping between both the characters is simple and rarely effects the flow and pacing of the game. Local Co-op is a great feature of the game and playing with another person really adds to the emotion of the game as the journey feels far more personal, I played the game throughout with another person (my 10-year old brother) and I would advise you do the same.
In tandem with it’s unique setting, Never Alone also throws in some interesting gameplay elements. The heroic fox is slightly gifted and magical, he can call upon and has limited control of Arctic spirits. These spirits are needed to help you navigate some of the fiendish platform challenges, having to control these other worldly beings to help Nuna progress was always fun and their clever involvement at times really adds to the gameplay. Early on in the game our young hero is given a magic bola, this becomes probably the most important and most used element of the game. Calling spirits for assistance, breaking ice and throwing it at the odd polar bear are just a few of it’s uses. It also becomes quite important to the story as an evil (and bloody frightening man) wants to harness its magic for himself.
Vulnerability is a huge part of the game, as you play as a young girl and a somewhat tiny fox. Nature, the elements and occasionally man himself are all there to stop you reaching your goal. The animations seen when one of those elements defeats you really is heart breaking and further adds to the emotion of the game. Even though both characters don’t speak, you still feel the emotional bond between them through the sometimes playful cut scenes.
As important as the bola becomes in the game. I found its execution to be one of the weakest parts of the game. Control and aiming of the bola I found at times unruly and difficult and this was exaggerated during some of the more fast paced platforming sections, where needing to quickly use the item becomes a matter of life and death for our heroes. I feel a simple aiming reticule would have cured this, but this may have come at the expense of the minimalist UI. I had a few other issues with the game aswell, odd sound and animation glitches reared their ugly heads and other parts of the game simply lack some attention to detail. These are simple things such as a character simply facing the wrong way, while crying after the death of one of the two heroes. Something simple as this really took me out of the experience at times and reminded me often that this was still indeed a video game. (Note – A launch day patch will be released, which I’ve been told will fix some of games bugs)
Odd issues and its somewhat generic game-play aside, Never Alone is a beautiful and unique experience. Crafted with love and care and has an attention to detail which fully encompasses you into the story and narrative. You begin to care for these characters almost instantly and their journey is thrilling, at times upsetting and will keep you hooked throughout the 6+ hours of the game just to see its resolution. The makers have brought something special to the table here, indigenous tales such as these are rarely heard outside of their world and I found myself thankful and enriched to have heard this tale for myself and via such a forward thinking medium.