Never Alone: Review

It's rare to encounter a genuinely new story. Most seem to be rehashes of popular tropes or variations on the same theme. Sometimes to find new stories you have to look far afield, to cultures that have a different history and set of social mores than we do.

Never Alone takes the admirable step of trying to bring a story from Alaskan Inupiaq people to life. The story of the making of the game is as interesting as the story in the game. Rather than simply spending government grants, the Cook Inlet Tribal Council instead decided to use the money to try and create a self-sustaining community by fostering new businesses. One of the ideas was to try and keep the young Inupiaq immersed in their native culture as well as the modern world. The idea for a development studio was born. Teaming with E-Line Media, the tribal council formed Upper One Games.

The game itself is a simple side scrolling platformer featuring two characters that can either be played in co-op or switched between if playing solo. A young girl and her friend/pet snow fox set off on a long trek to discover why the blizzard won’t end. Along the way they are chased by polar bears, encounter spirits, brave the elements and must constantly battle the wind to progress. Mechanically it's not the toughest platformer around, with the most difficult of platforming challenges beingpretty elementary for anyone who’s familiar with the genre.

The real challenge comes from the AI when playing solo. Sometimes it can be more than a little problematic, with the characters getting too far apart to make the synchronised jumping feasible. The snow fox has the ability to make spirit platforms appear when it is close by, so if the AI decides it needs to move further away from the girl the platform disappears and you’ll find yourself restarting again and again and again.

Mechanical problems aside, there is still something pretty wonderful about Never Alone. Starting a new chapter or completing a new stage unlocks a short documentary film about Inupiaq culture, history, spirituality or the like, lending some real depth and background to the action of the game. The entire game is narrated in the Inupiaq language, one of the warmest, gentlest languages we’ve heard. It all comes together to make the game something more than the sum of its parts. Never Alone is part game, part cultural catalogue, part attempt to keep oral history alive.

Unfortunately the only real weakness of this formula is the actual game. When it works it’s fun, but when the AI plays up and makes progression impossible, or the controls prove to be a little too sluggish to react to input in time it’s both incredibly frustrating and a little sad. A lot of love has been put into Never Alone and the reward is definitely there for those who persevere.


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