Winner of multiple awards, Never Alone (or Kisima Ingitchuna) displays the heartwarming bond of Nuna – an Iñupiat girl – and an Arctic Fox as they journey to save her village from a treacherous blizzard by discovering its cause.
The indie game is constructed around Iñupiat, a native Alaskan people, about whom players can unlock videos exploring culture and folklore. The characters travel across the screen in a linear fashion solving puzzles to continue on their journey.
Although Never Alone has been available for a while, I never had the chance to try it for myself. When I saw it up for grabs on Xbox Live, I knew the time had come!
Let’s Delve Into The Gameplay!
You’ll start off by choosing either single or multiplayer, and play as either Nuna or the fox. If you choose to try single player, you’ll have the chance to switch between the two characters as you play. Both of them have special abilities that will make the journey easier and help you get over some of the obstacles.
The Arctic Fox, for example, moves more quickly than the girl and can also use arctic spirits to help the team move along. The girl, instead can move objects and use her bola (slingshot-like weapon) to break through ice and activate certain spirits.
Regardless, the gameplay in Never Alone is fairly straightforward and, though some of the puzzles are challenging, the majority won’t take more than ten minutes or so. Because of the ease of the gameplay and the overall childlike innocence, this game might be perfect for playing with children.
Iñupiat Cultural Influences
The game is called Never Alone (or “I am not alone” translated from its Iñupiat) for a reason. The concept of permanent bonding, typical of the culture this indie title portraits, is perfectly exemplified through the girl and her fox. If one of the characters dies, for example, the other character will mourn its death and both will start over at the last checkpoint.
The design of the cutscenes is also based on a type of art called Scrimshaw. Scrimshaw uses materials to draw out stories so that their memory would not be forgotten. The short video segments players can unearth during game progression, in particular, add to the depth and richness of the gameplay.
Sections of the game are also aesthetically pleasing, like when Nuna and the fox travel under the Northern Lights (side note: check out the soundtrack which is pretty great).
Does Never Alone Pass The Test?
To be sincere, I have mixed feelings about Never Alone. On one hand, the game is thoughtful and beautifully illustrates the stories and culture of the Iñupiat people. However, at the same time, it can be – for lack of a better word- boring!
The narration feels like it is leading up to something but, in the end, does not deliver anything more than an anticlimactic conclusion. At times, a friend and I also ran into a few glitches.
While playing one scene, for instance, repeatedly trying to figure out how to solve the puzzle, we realized there was something wrong with the game itself. The only thing that could fix it was starting again from an earlier checkpoint. I’m surprised such issues haven’t been addressed by the devs at all!
In the end, I think Never Alone had very ambitious goals by trying to share the stories and culture of the Iñupiat people through interactive narration. The team behind it definitely succeeded in nailing the culture but needed to put more work in developing the game itself. A bit more QA would have definitely helped here.
That being said, I believe Never Alone still holds value as a quick, yet informative experience that is enjoyable to play with a friend. If you want to give it a go, this indie game is currently available on all major consoles – besides the Nintendo Switch – as well as on PC through Steam!