Never Alone (Kisima Innitchuna in Inupiaq language) is a game released in November 2014 on Xbox One and Playstation 4 from Upper One Games. Founded in 2012 by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Anchorage, Alaska, they partnered with E-Line Media of New York to reach a wide audience. A member of the puzzle-platformer genre, this is a title not to be missed for those seeking depth and deeper meaning in games.
Every now and then a game comes along that pushes far beyond the surface and Never Alone is one of these. A new gaming genre termed “World Games” has been formed this year (games that bring stories from indigenous cultures to a global audience) and its flagship title is Never Alone. Games like this are hoped to drive sustainability and empower native youth, and this feat can be accomplished by a deep connection among developers and the native people in every area of their culture to maintain authenticity.
Nuna is the protagonist in this title, an Alaskan girl who meets up with a mysterious spirit-fox as she tries to save her village from a terrible storm threatening to bury their way of life under piles of snow and ice. Along the way players face physical challenges and dangers that range from bears, drowning, to an evil brute with a face only a mother could love.
Unique gameplay elements, from a puzzle-platformer stance, were the graphics, story, cutscenes and coop puzzle mechanics. Game graphics are beautiful and cut scenes come alive through simple 2D animations. Wind and snow that blow throughout the world present it as alive and mystical. This wind plays into movement as it forces players to wait at times or they will be thrust backwards while jumping forward. With the powerful next-gen engines, I felt as if I was in a snowy Alaskan landscape being blown here and there by the freezing winds.
This game makes use of puzzle platforming in a way that allows single player or local cooperative gameplay. Normal challenges found in similar game types are found here, but what Never Alone does differently is multi-character control. As I played it by myself, I had to control both characters and doing so required using the fox to quickly distract or pull objects while I switched to Nuna to pass a puzzle. Doing so presented a nice challenge to the levels that complimented the story setting, since the connection of man and nature through accomplishment of tasks and survival by a spirit of teamwork is stressed.
There are no real negatives to be found in this title as I can see. It offers a fun 3-4 hour experience with all the positives mentioned above. Hidden bonuses include cultural interviews that provide more on the heritage of the tribal people involved in production. This really broadens the impact of this World Game. I hope the Inupiaq people of Northern Alaska benefit from having this exposure and hope to see more Global games from them and other indigenous people in the future.