In Never Alone you play as a small Inupiaq girl named Nuna as she sets out from her village one day and finds herself lost in a terrible blizzard. She stumbles upon a small arctic fox and together the two set out to return home. Along the way they become swept along in various stories from the folklore of the Inupiaq people in what is a puzzle/platform game that has a heavy dose of storytelling and a magical atmosphere not like anything else we’ve played before. The relationship between the two builds throughout as they simply can’t survive the environment without one another.
The game is a 2D platformer much in the mould of something like Limbo. Imagine Limbo with a more natural looking design and the black replaced with white and you wouldn’t be far off. As the pair of Nuna and the fox you must work together to make your way across the harsh landscape of Alaska. Nuna can run and jump and eventually gets access to an ice smashing bolas. The fox can scramble up walls and also talk to the many natural spirits that inhabit the world.
Many of the puzzles involve getting the fox into areas where he can then draw spirits back to help Nuna. Spirits generally take the form of birds that can be used as platforms or creatures that can be used to climb walls. The fox can also control trees and fish. It’s a nice mechanic and one that normally works well. You switch between the two characters with the press of a button or a second player can be brought in to help out. Together you need to overcome everything from polar bears and strong winds to breaking ice and even the odd menacing and magical creature.
Occasionally the computer AI will let you down and your partner will do something stupid and die but on the whole it didn’t stop our progress and there isn’t anything here that should cause you too much frustration in that respect. We also had a few technical issues during our play through like ice not smashing but there wasn’t anything major enough to ruin our experience and a simple checkpoint reset always fixed the problem. The fact checkpoints are fairly generous also helped to keep the frustration low.
It’s hard to talk about the game without giving away much of its magic and surprises but we will say that you are constantly faced with something new to play with or overcome. Each chapter is distinctly different from the last and almost all of them introduce a new mechanic or toy to play with. This means that the game always remains fresh and is all the better for it. It has a fairly brief run time at about three and a half hours but it’s an experience that is far richer than the run time would suggest.
The whole thing is underpinned with some beautiful graphics and a haunting score and these combined with the howling winds make a perfect setting for the story and fill the whole game with a unique and wonderful atmosphere. The narrator of the story also does an incredible job of drawing you in and making you feel real empathy for a little girl and fox lost in the snow. The narration is done in the indigenous language which is a very clever choice as we don’t feel narrating in English would have had anywhere near the same impact. You can just imagine everyone huddled around a fire in the snow listening to him tell the tale.
Overall, Never Alone is a wonderful piece of storytelling tied to a very good platform/puzzle game. It’s an original take on a well-trodden genre that draws inspiration from a rich culture that many of us will know very little about. As such, it creates something unique and new for audiences to enjoy. It creates a world filled with magic and wonder and isn’t that something we all want in our lives a little more?