The Alaskan tundra can be a very dangerous place. There’s polar bears, thin ice, wolves, and avalanches, not to mention the below freezing temperatures. A small girl and her faithful fox companion wandering through such a place wouldn’t be an ideal situation. But after playing ‘Never Alone‘, I wouldn’t want to experience it any other way.
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) tells the story of a small Iñupiaq girl named Numa whose village is suffering from what appears to be a never-ending blizzard, preventing them from being able to hunt or maintain their community. While looking to find the source of this bizarre storm, Numa is confronted by an evil man who is attacking her village, which sets her off on a journey across the Alaskan tundra. Helped by a mysterious, yet very friendly white snow fox, they must work together along with the spirits of nature to help put Numa’s village back together.
Controlling both Numa and the fox, the game is a puzzle-platformer deeply inspired by the rich Alaska Native culture and history. Using character-specific abilities, you must use both the girl and fox to navigate through areas ripe with pitfalls and road blocks. Very reminiscent to the indie hit ‘LIMBO‘, although not nearly as unforgiving, the game’s puzzles are physics-based and can require some trial and error. The fox has the unique ability of communicating with the spirits of the world around them in order to create pathways or platforms to help Numa progress. While she is limited to only running and jumping, Numa does acquire a weapon of sorts later on in the game, although this is mostly used for breaking ice and not as self defense. With nearly all enemy encounters resulting in running away rather than fighting, you’ll have to coordinate both character’s strengths in order to succeed.
The game controls are smooth, fluid, and responsive. With only basic jumping, climbing, and the occasional pushing involved, the game’s movements may be simple but they feel great. Switching between characters is only a button press away. This is a good thing because you’ll be doing it, a lot. If you are playing the game solo and controlling each character, the process of switching back and forth can become a bit tedious after a while. I highly recommend playing the game in co-op mode if at all possible. I personally found playing with someone else made game feel immeasurably less tedious in the harder sections. There were a few times where the game seemed to punish me for walking into the side of a moving block which resulted in a few unfair deaths, but it was nothing that kept me from progressing further.
While I do compare the game to LIMBO, I must stress that they are not the same beast. While LIMBO relied heavily on split-second decisions and trial and error gameplay, Never Alone is more of a slower-paced visual and culturally enriching experience. If you sit back and absorb the journey and don’t come into the title expecting platforming akin to Mario or Super Meat Boy, then you will find yourself enjoying an interesting and even relaxing time.
Visually the game is gorgeous. Snowy plains of sparkling white powder and reflecting moonlight on icebergs make for an outstanding overall atmosphere. The use of depth of field focus makes some sections of the game look jaw-dropping. One level consists of jumping across floating ice patches scattered across a black sea. The movement of the water from the background into the foreground was nearly hypnotizing to me. While the poly-count may not be record-breaking, the artwork and amount of visual style put into the game is nothing short of fantastic.
The game itself is heavily inspired on native Alaskan culture and folklore. Featuring items, characters, and locations all based on real-world creations and culture, it’s easy to see how closely the developers worked with the Iñupiaq people. One of my favorite influences are the cutscenes that are told through the use of scrimshaw etchings. The game also provides you with a large amount of short video clips that show the cultural significance of items or events in the game. These are unlocked as you progress and are an extremely interesting look into the world of Iñupiaq people.
The sound design is top-notch. The whistling winds of the ongoing blizzard and the sloshing of ice in the open sea all combine to create a very pleasing experience. The narration is presented in the Iñupiaq language, which only adds to the wonder of the world featured. The music is somber and appropriate for the calmer times, and can become hectic and heavy in more frantic situations.
Overall, Never Alone is a fantastic example of just how artistic and enriching video games can be. With wonderfully unique storytelling and cultural influences, it really shines bright among most titles that are created today. If you’re looking for a laid-back platformer with a great personality, then Never Alone will not disappoint.