It is surprisingly refreshing to play a game where we just relax and immerse ourselves in a folk tale of another culture. Especially so when every single time a game features a non-white-male protagonist reactionaries and Gamergaters would cry foul over “misandry” and “white genocide”. Fortunately for us, this game seem to have escape the attention of these nutjobs, and we can just play the game without the distraction of external controversies.
Never Alone is, from its very core, a game by and about the Iñupiaq people, an ethnic group from Alaska. The main plot of the game is based on a folk tale where a young girl named Nuna who goes on an adventure seeking to stop a blizzard that has befallen her village. Along the way, she is accompanied by an adorable white fox, which was said to be a spirit sent to guide her.
It is a 2D puzzle platformer where the player character can be switched between Nuna and the fox at the press of a button. Players are encouraged to do so frequently to make use of each character’s unique abilities to solve puzzle and traverse obstacles. There are no combat mechanics, though there are occasional enemy encounters where they need to be defeated by a clever use of the environment.
The ‘collectibles’ in the game, if we can call it that, are the unlocking of various documentary-style clips that talk about the life and culture of the Iñupiaq people. Most of them feature interviews of different people who talked about their lives and different aspects about their culture and beliefs.
Even though it falls under the genre of the 2D puzzle platformer, its puzzle and platforming elements are light compared to other games. To a hardcore, skill-based gamer, the controls of Never Alone might feel sluggish and floaty, though the game compensates by being more forgiving. There were a few times I thought I have missed a jump but the game lets me through anyway. The game clearly doesn’t intend to be a pixel-perfect skill-tester like Super Meat Boy or VVVVVV. It is designed to be more of a relaxing game, rather than a challenging one. The puzzles aren’t too complicated to solve, either.
The art design is surprisingly varied for a game which takes place entirely in cold, icy, Arctic landscapes. Throughout the game, players will explore plundered villages, ice caves, and even get swallowed by a whale like the biblical Jonah.
This is not a game about testing your skills or overcoming challenges like Dark Souls. But rather it’s a game where we see a story about Nuna overcoming her challenges. If you’re looking for a game to relax with, while also having an educational experience about the Iñupiaq culture, then Never Alone comes highly recommended.