Never Alone, also known as Kisima Ingitchuna, has been a game that I have anticipated for quite some time now. The background of exactly how and why the game was created really intrigued me. Knowing that the game was developed in collaboration with Alaska Native people was interesting enough, however, it was the story that really captivated me.
The story that Never Alone is based upon is the traditional Iñupiat story “Kunuuksaayuka”, the game also incorporates other traditional Alaska Native stories into the plot. I’ve always been a fan of myths, fables, and folklore and so I immediately knew this was a game I just had to play.
Crafted in partnership, played in co-operation
Never Alone is a puzzle-platformer that focuses on players having to use the two main characters in partnership. You can choose to play solo, switching between Nuna and Fox to help them work together, or you can also play co-op with two players, each taking on their respective role. Both characters have their own individual abilities and uses, only by the characters aiding each other are you able to progress through the game.
For a puzzle game, Never Alone was not as challenging as I had hoped. However, that’s not to say that I didn’t have my fair share of moments where I had to keep replaying to get it right.
Overall, I feel the game was more platformer than puzzle orientated, however, it’s still highly enjoyable. The gameplay progresses naturally because it is enabled by the brilliant story line driving the protagonists.
The completionist in me also appreciated that the collectibles gave indicators as to their locations. Each cultural insight collectible is portrayed by an owl that hoots softly when you are close to it, enabling players to collect them easily.
The cultural insights are not intrusive to the game, once collected you can choose to view them immediately or continue without even having to press anything. All insights can be viewed at any time from the main menu.
Never Alone wasn’t very long, it took me just under two hours to complete the game and I managed to get all the collectibles in the first play through. However, when you take into account that it is a digital download title rather than a retail game, the length of Never Alone is fairly accurate. Although I wish the game had been longer, I can appreciate that Upper One Games didn’t over-saturate Never Alone with unnecessary scenes that weren’t fitting for the plot.
Never Alone doesn’t exactly feature ground-breaking graphics but that doesn’t make it any less visually stunning. The way in which the spirits and other fabled creatures appear in the game are simply entrancing.
The animals such as Fox and the polar bear are wonderfully animated, the natural way in which they move and behave shows the amount of research that must have gone into the game. Overall the colours within the game are muted, mainly focusing on the white wash of the blizzard but also in some areas being swallowed by darkness. Whenever bright colours are used, such as the luminous green of the Northern Lights, the brightness juxtaposes well with the softer colours as well as emphasising the eeriness of the spiritual creatures.
One of the visual features I enjoyed the most about Never Alone were the cut scenes. These scenes have a more authentic Alaska Native art feel to them, akin to that of the Never Alone concept art. This 2D animated art style also elicits the idea of illustrations from within story books. The game loading screens are also interspersed with quotes of the original telling of “Kunuuksaayuka” by Robert Cleveland, the man who was first recorded telling the story.
I also loved the way in which Never Alone felt multi-layered, although a side-scrolling platform game, things would appear and happen in the foreground and background. While you would be walking Nuna and Fox through the village, Little People would scurry and hide just in front of the screen adding more depth to your field of vision.
“I will tell you a very old story”
The narrative of Never Alone is its strongest quality; Upper One Games aimed for “Game-based cultural storytelling” and it really didn’t miss that mark. Playing the game was like being immersed inside a book of traditional cultural stories that unfolded before you.
The premise of the endless blizzard, with elements such as the Man Slayer and the Little People, were both beautiful and terrifying. The stories told throughout the game are very much like the Arctic environment that the game is set in, harsh but beautiful. Even though the stories are vastly different from my own culture, they reminded me of similar tales I was told as a child with the same balance of magic, mystery, and danger. Never Alone manages to evoke emotions from the player in ways that some games struggle to do.
Generally, games that touch upon certain plot points but then don’t explain or expand upon them tend to frustrate me, making me feel as though I’m missing out on something interesting. Although many traditional Iñupiat stories seemed to cameo for a brief time within the game, the cultural insight collectibles more than quenched my thirst for further background into story elements.
The game is narrated by James Mumiġan Nageak, an Iñupiaq elder, his voice lends itself to the idea of authentic Alaska Native storytelling. The narration also further emphasises the feeling of game-based story-telling, as the player is actually having the events of the story read aloud to them, reminiscent of being read stories as a child.
The music of Never Alone is very atmospheric and suits the theme of the game extremely well. The soft tones of the music and ambient sounds blend well with the ever-present environmental sound of the blizzard.
Although not overly challenging in terms of gameplay, Never Alone is a beautiful example of game-based storytelling that works extremely well. The characters and story within Never Alone are exceptionally charming and entrance the player into continuing like a good book that you just can’t put down.
Never Alone is the first World Game and it is far from being a disappointment. I really hope that Upper One Games explores the idea of more World Games, perhaps utilising cultures from all around the globe.