by William Thompson
previewed on PC
Teaching youngsters is a fine art. Keeping them entertained whilst doing so is doubly so, especially in a time where modern technology takes up much of their time. Never Alone was initially developed as a way of connecting with the local youth of the Inupiaq people and giving them an understanding of the tribe’s history and lore in a more familiar setting of a video game. But the game has become more than that. It has lovely visuals, fantastic audio, a simple control scheme and a wonderful story.
Never Alone is the story of Nuna, an Inupiaq girl with her pet Arctic Fox, known simply as Fox. The game takes the form of a puzzle platformer which can either be played as a single player game where you control either character at various points or can be played as a two-player co-op with one playing as Nuna and one as her faithful companion. The story goes that Nuna’s village has been tormented by a blizzard, and Nuna has set about to find the source of the storm and thereby saving her entire village.
Working in tandem
Both Nuna and Fox have individual abilities that help to solve the puzzle aspect of Never Alone. Fox, for instance is fast and seems to have greater senses, whilst Nuna has the ability to pick things up and can interact with certain areas of the game. These two are inseparable though, and if one of the two characters falters, both will falter. It is this sort of interaction between the two characters that drives the wonderful story.
The Arctic setting contains a host of dangers for the duo including sheer walls, gaping crevices and chilling gusts of winds that could push either to a poignant death, indicating the harshness of life for the Inupiaq people. Nuna and Fox are often helped by animal spirits, spirits that are part of the Inupiaq beliefs. The game controls and mechanics are also simple enough that youngsters will be able to progress. An example of this is with the wind. There is usually an indication that it is coming, and gamers can brace for it, let it pass over both the characters without risk. As Never Alone is an educational tool, the intention to game the game relatively easy to progress is well designed.
As the game progresses, Nuna will find special owls located at various points throughout the landscape. These owls are ‘insights’ and act as bonuses, which show a short documentary-style video based around a certain aspect of Inupiaq culture. It is through these cut-scenes that the tribe’s elders hope to teach the Inupiaq youth. They share their cultural beliefs and explain much of how the Inupiaq people have interacted with their surroundings. It is a teaching system that works well, so well that even someone as myself from an entirely different cultural background, was able to find interesting.
Visually, Never Alone takes place in an Arctic setting, so you would be correct in assuming that the game is somewhat devoid of colour. And although this could be construed as blandness, it is far from it. The artwork is gorgeous, inspired by traditional Alaskan Native art and the relative desolation only helps to guide the narrative of Nuna and Fox similar to the way Limbo progresses the story in a monochrome setting.
From what we’ve seen, Never Alone is a marvelous format for storytelling. The Inupiaq story progresses smoothly and is wonderfully immersive. The gameplay itself is well thought out too, giving the gamers sufficient hazards, but also making the game simple enough for the younger gamers to play. The fact that the game can be played as a co-op means that adults can play with their children, guiding them through the tougher areas. The visuals are lovely too, further immersing the gamer into the Inupiaq history. We’re looking forward to seeing the final product.