When I first saw Never Alone, I wasn’t exactly taken aback with its apparent Limbo mimicry. As I delved deeper into it though I got a better sense of what E-Line media and Upper One are trying to achieve with it. The premise is interesting. The developers have taken the familiarity of a side scrolling puzzle platformer and given it the framing device of real world Inuit culture through the insights of the Inupiak community and their folklore.
The story focusses on a young Inupiat girl called Nuna, who leaves her village in a bid to find the reason behind the constant blizzard that plagues her community. Along her path she is confronted by many dangers, one which comes in the form of a polar bear chasing her into a corner. It’s at this point we are introduced to Fox, who is in fact an Arctic fox that rescues Nuna from the bear and joins her in her quest through the cold and dangerous environments ahead.
Gameplay is split between the the two characters, either of which have their own abilities to progress and traverse the environment. Nuna can climb ladders, break ice barriers with her bola while being constantly threatened by everything around her. Fox is quite agile, being able to jump and clamber up walls and can commune with spirits which aid both characters progress. As a single player you take control of both of the characters, switching between them as required or you can pass a controller to a friend and play cooperatively. The latter is best if you have someone who is willing to play it with you due to some areas requiring the other character to stay still, unfortunately this is a niggle when playing solo as default the other character will attempt to follow the other, leading to awkward situations where a character will annoyingly leap to their demise. Also there are times in the later game where Fox character needs to stay close to certain platforms or spirits for them to remain tangible. If Fox drifts away slightly then the platform will disappear and cause Nuna to fall to her death. While having two people play is a definite plus you may find it difficult to find someone else willing to play the game with you, unless you use Share Play which was having issues at the time of this review. I am not entirely sure if share play was blocked or if it was due to server trouble but the developers would be making a grave error if it was indeed the former.
The look of this game is a definite high point. The environments are organic and are genuinely beautiful despite the minimalistic backdrop of the white blizzard. One of my particular favourite settings was a tundra at night time, as I hopped over ice blocks the blackened sea rocked and lashed up against the path in front of me. This heavily stylised winter is Never Alone‘s strongest asset and definitely something that should be experienced. Character models are no slouch either, taking inspiration from cultural paintings and carvings of the Inupiak people, the same artistry that was used to tell stories to the newer generations of the community throughout the years.
As you progress through the story you can find unlockables which are represented by snow owls, these open up “cultural insights” which are live accounts from the people of the Inupiak clan of inuits. These cultural insights are laid out like a Discovery documentary and makes it feel like you are playing the dramatisations. It is the developers intention to make this a new genre of game known as a ‘world game,’ which is one that explores a culture in the form of interactive entertainment. In the end though it just feels like they have been added to give the players a bit more content. Never Alone is a very short game of around 3-4 hours long with little to no replay value and while they are interesting, I do feel that they will be largely ignored by those who are simply wanting to play a game.