A glimpse into the culture of a native Alaskan people, with some platforming and puzzles thrown in.
Never Alone, or Kisima Ingitchuna, is an inspiring game from Upper One Games which manages to pass on a story and give insight into the native Alaskan Iñupiat people, whilst also offering some co-op platforming and puzzle solving.
The tale told in Never Alone comes from Iñupiat folklore and tells of a never ending blizzard. Taking on the role of a brave young girl, and a friendly arctic fox, the player must leave their village and find the source of the blizzard, with the aim of stopping it for good. As the player progresses through this bleak and often magical story, they will gain access to video clips giving an insight into the Iñupiat people and their culture.
These videos are both well made and interesting to watch, making Never Alone a strange hybrid of video game and documentary. It works, with the video clips expanding on or explaining the background of what is going on in the game, and anyone who wants to learn more about the Iñupiat people will come away more educated. However, for the players who are in it for the game alone, things are not quite so rosy.
The game plays as a 2D platformer, in a similar manner to the hit game Limbo, but with less dark and more light. Unlike Limbo, as the player makes their way through the harsh environment, they will have to deal with both sluggish and imprecise controls, making reaction-based movement and precise platform jumping as much about luck as anything else. At times, the blizzard comes in strong and the player will need to brace themselves with a simple button press. However, it can be difficult to tell when the blizzard is coming, and trying to work out if there is enough time to make a series of complex jumps before being battered by the wind leads to the occasional frustrating death.
With two playable characters on screen, both the young girl and the fox, Never Alone was clearly designed for co-op play. In this respect it does very well, with each player taking a different character and using their unique abilities to progress through the game. With two players, solving the admittedly simple puzzles is a joy and, once each player is comfortable with their characters abilities, even the less than perfect controls are not so much of a problem.
However, playing alone, which is going against the games’ title, is a much more flawed experience. Players can switch between the two characters at will, with the game AI taking control of the other character and following the player. Unfortunately, the game AI seems to not have got to grips with the different characters quite as well as another player could, and really doesn’t do a great job. Precise jumping when the other character is standing in the way, or disappearing ghostly platforms as a result of the other character moving too far, are all examples of ways that the AI can cause the player problems.
Outside of the controls and the AI, Never Alone manages to be a competent platformer with easy but enjoyable puzzles. There is nothing really new to video games and many of the puzzles and sequences in the game can be found elsewhere. But in many ways, the puzzles feel more like an additional side dish to the tale that Never Alone is sharing with the player, so their lack of imagination or uniqueness is almost unimportant.
Visually, Never Alone really manages to set the scene. With cut scenes created with a traditional theme, lovely animation and a landscape which is simply beautiful to behold, Never Alone is a great looking game. The soundtrack adds to the atmosphere and does a great job of conveying a sense of desperation and often wonder that fits in with the gameplay perfectly.
As a 2D platformer, Never Alone is often unremarkable and occasionally frustrating. However, it is not just a 2D platformer. Never Alone is also an insight into the lives and folklore of the Iñupiat people, and it is quite beautiful. Whilst gamers on the whole may struggle to find enjoyment in Never Alone, those with an open mind to learning about another culture will see the journey as worthwhile.