by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Our time with Never Alone at PAX Aus felt terribly short. We loved what we glimpsed of the tale of the Inupiat people and I jumped at the chance to spend time with the full game.
At its core, Never Alone is a puzzle platformer, one that was initially designed as a way of communicating with the youth of the Alaskan Inupiat people and teaching them of the history and culture of their tribe. What better way to get youngsters interested in history, than via a video game? I grew up playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, and I certainly think that has helped my knowledge of geography.
A Tale of two characters
Never Alone is the story of Nuna, a young girl from the Inupiat tribe. A blizzard has taken its hold on her village and she sets out trying to find the source so that, hopefully, she can extinguish it. As the title suggests, she is never alone. She is befriended by an Arctic fox, and together they set off on their adventure in a harsh, unforgiving world.
The platforming sequences are on the simple end of the spectrum. The developers primary aim will be for players to progress and learn more about the history of the Inupiat people and a low difficulty level certainly helps the flow of the story. The puzzle sequences are quite well designed though. The two characters must be used in tandem in order to solve the puzzles, for which the game can be played as a co-op with one player controlling Nuna and the other player controlling her faithful companion. In single-player mode, the player switches between the two.
Boss characters can be found throughout the game, often along with timed events and regularly proving to be the exception to my previous point about the somewhat easy platforming. The Polar Bear, a character known as Terrible One (or Manslayer) and the Blizzard Man, make for some formidable foes. There are certainly enough environmental hazards to give gamers a challenge as well. Blizzard winds will push Nuna off cliffs, sharp spikes need to be avoided and water is deadly in most cases, with the notable exception being the water level, in which swimming seems to be quite natural. Along the way, special helpful spirits can be called by Fox in order to help guide Nuna.
Best Friends Forever
The story's pacing is wonderful and the cut scenes between levels only help to further the relationship between the two characters. Nuna and her companion form an inseparable bond and there is definite feeling of loss when one of the two characters dies. Fox pines for his companion whenever Nuna meets an end, whilst Nuna drops to her knees in anguish whenever Fox falls to his death or is captured by a boss. This sort of interaction manages to imbue the sense of camaraderie between the two and their dependence on each other.
Wonderful story, great interaction between the two main characters.
Not an overly long game.