Have you ever wondered how many fascinating mythologies there are in the world that you don’t have access to or simply don’t know where to look for? Developers of Upper One Games, the first indigenous-owned videogame company in the U.S., took it upon themselves to make one such tale easily accessible to a global audience in the form of a game – Never Alone, a small story with a big heart.
Never Alone, or Kisima Ingitchuna, is a puzzle platformer that follows the adventure of Nuna, a girl from the Native Alaskan Iñupiat tribe, and her new four-legged friend, a polar fox. The two meet as Nuna embarks on a journey to discover what is causing the sudden and unrelenting blizzards that engulf her village and bring its people to the brink of starvation.
The gameplay is refreshing, yet straightforward. The player can choose to switch between controlling Nuna and Fox at will, or invite a friend to play as the other character on the same device. Initially, if you play alone, you might fear that the computer-controlled character will be causing you more trouble than they’re worth, but those fears are soon diminished. The AI does a very good job of making sure its character does exactly what it’s supposed to – be it climbing up slopes after the player, or staying in one place when necessary. Nuna and Fox also have different abilities that the AI will not use for you, so playing as both is necessary to make progress. Nuna can, for example, climb up ladders and break ice with her bola (a type of throwing weapon), while Fox can help by pushing down ropes for Nuna to climb and attracting helpful spirits of the tundra – all with the press of a single button, if that.
The game boasts an atmospheric soundtrack, charming storyline, narration in Iñupiaq, and a unique art style. Interestingly, it also features a special educational quirk in the form of “cultural insights”, 24 short videos the player can unlock throughout the course of the game. Players are then encouraged to watch the insights, which cover a vast array of topics ranging from the source material for the game’s story to Iñupiaq art or the significance of the hunt in the Alaskan arctic.
From a technical standpoint, the game is well-executed but not flawless. Transitions between individual animations feel rather stiff, sometimes misaligned, and although the game is mostly bug-free, if you’re not careful, every once in a while you get the pleasure of watching your chosen character get propelled off the screen at supersonic speed if they get stuck on something. However, the game is very forgiving, and no occasional technical hiccups can break it – the worst the glitchiness can really crack is a smile on your face.
Despite the presence of minor glitches and the game’s short span (about 4 hours of playtime on average), Never Alone is a delight that will make you want to huddle around a fire with your loved ones on a cold winter’s night and say, hopeful: “It would be really nice to hear a story.”
Title: Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)
Developer: Upper One Games, E-Line Media
Publisher: E-Line Media
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, iOS, Android
Released: November 18th, 2014
Genres: puzzle platformer, indie, casual
Age Rating: PEGI 12