Kris Wall reviews Never Alone…
Every now and again, something comes along completely out of the blue and unexpectedly blindsides you, and so it is with Upper One Games’ Never Alone, or Kissima Ingitchuna to give it its proper name, that has appeared out of a blizzard to completely take my breath away. Let me tell you why Never Alone is one of most rewarding experiences you’ll have all year and a triumph for small scale gaming.
In Never Alone, you play as Nuna, a young Inupiaq girl who’s village and people are being threatened by ‘the eternal blizzard’ so she sets off to discover the source and save her people. Shortly after she sets off, Nuna encounters an arctic fox which can seemingly communicate with the spirits of the arctic. The fox takes an immediate shine to her and becomes her inseparable traveling companion throughout the adventure, helping each other survive insurmountable odds and proving that even in the darkest and most testing of times, you’re never truly alone.
Never Alone plays out like a fable, a bedtime story that is being passed down from generation to generation as the Inupiaq elder narrates over the game’s story. It has a wonderfully elegiac approach to it, as if the bedtime story is being read directly to you, giving you this warm, relaxed and almost comforting feeling as you play, though you’ll never feel anything less than engaged and swept along in Nuna’s adventure to save her village. As you progress through the game, you’ll be able to collect cultural insights which delve deeper into the history and mythology of the people and the families behind the game, it’s never forced upon you at any point and you can play the whole thing without watching any of them but I always felt fascinated to learn more about the cultural insights and found the game to be just as intellectually rewarding as it was entertaining.
At its heart, Never Alone is a puzzle platform game. You can swap between Nuna and the fox at any point in the adventure, both have different abilities to help each other progress, Nuna has the strength to drag and push heavy items around, shimmy up and swing from ropes and smash open new areas with her bola while the fox has the speed and agility to leap higher and farther, dash up walls and bounce back and forth between them to access higher ground while communicating with spirits to open up new areas as well. The game starts off simple enough but soon progresses into some real head scratchers as you try to work out how you can combine their abilities to progress.
Never Alone is absolutely beautiful to behold; if Disney Pixar made a video game it would probably look something like this. It’s even more impressive when you consider this is a small game from a small developer. The playful animation between Nuna and the fox as they bond speaks more words than any dialogue could while simple animations like seeing Nuna brace against the ferocious winds and seeing it ripple the fur on her coat. Your journey across the frozen tundra is quite varied too, with adventures through burning villages, the insides of a whale and across the Northern Lights, which manifest themselves as spooky ghosts waiting to drag Nuna and the Fox to their doom should they get too close while all the cut scenes have a hand drawn look ripped straight from the pages of a book written by the likes of Guillermo Del Toro.
If there is one issue I had during my time with Never Alone it is the random difficulty spikes that crop up, sometimes I wasn’t clear on where to go or what I should be doing, sometimes the A.I of the computer controlled partner couldn’t keep up with me and other times I felt the victim of some unfair deaths because the A.I got trapped on the scenery or caught by one of the games threats while trying to follow me. It’s by no means a game breaker and is infrequent in it’s occurrences but is also something that couldn’t be ignored either. Though it’s all the more reason to play the game with a second player in control of your partner.
Games like Never Alone are the reason why I love video games, as much as I love AAA blockbuster games throwing millions of pounds of effects at my retinas, it’s great when developers think outside of the box and dare to do something a bit different, something that can engage the heart and the mind as well as educate and inform without feeling like you’re being bludgeoned with it, and with Never Alone that gamble pays off beautifully for Upper One Games. You really owe it to yourself to check out Never Alone, it’s a truly wonderful experience and one I won’t forget in a hurry, a great way to end 2014 and a true highlight for small scale gaming.
Rating – 8.5/10