Never Alone is a gorgeous and heartbreaking platformer that steps into the Native Alaskan culture and folklore and it is a tremendous piece of art that makes players feel the desire to learn more about the people depicted in the game’s short video vignettes (which you unlock progressing through the story) and their way of living. In the end it will leave you with feeling of satisfaction and appreciation for the Alaskan culture, though the short road to get you there will leave a bitter taste on your tongue.
You fill the shoes of a young girl called Nuna who must travel through the harsh and deadly Alaskan wilderness in order to find the source of a terrible blizzard that has brought Nuna’s village on the brink of starvation, all of this while also facing all kind of natural and unnatural dangers on your journey.
The controls are standard for this kind of game – running, jumping and using objects in order to get past certain obstacles. This simplicity, along with the slow and heavy mechanics, adds to the game’s feeling of aloneness and isolation. But these same controls make a poor platformer out of Never Alone as sometimes it creates frustrating situations due to unresponsive commands, all this leading to numerous deaths and retries. And while the game has a number of interesting mechanics, like using your companion, an arctic fox, to summon spirits in order to help you travel to otherwise unreachable locations, the lack of precision is very noticeable and leads to further frustration.
The fox can be played by a second player, but if you decide to go solo, you must use a button to swap between characters in order to advance through the game. A big issue is that, when nobody is controlling the other character, the AI takes over and it’s so bad that it often falls or runs into its own death, obliging you to start over.
The game makes up for these problems with stunning visual design, paying much attention to details in order to evoke a sense of isolation and underlining the harsh and cold environment that surrounds you. Those short videos that you unlock by playing the game are also interesting, featuring interviews with Native Alaskan people and beautiful footage of the natural environment that you visit.
But one of the the game’s strongest qualities is the relationship between the two characters, Nuna and the arctic fox. This could be seen as a personalisation of the relationship between humans and nature, a crucial and important piece of the Alaskan culture. These seemingly opposite forces must work together in order to pass all kind of challenges and obstacles, and while the journey to the end of the game only lasts for a very short amount of time, it warms and breaks your heart on few occasions
Never Alone is a unique game that teaches the players the values of friendship and also nature preservation, all wrapped under the fascinating Native Alaskan folklore. It’s too bad that this short and beautiful story is hindered by frustrating and clunky gameplay mechanics that cast a large shadow over the narrative sincerity the game features.
Final score: 3.5 out of 5