Every once in a while, there is a game or better yet an experience that ends up turning into something special. This is perhaps the best way, to sum up, Upper One Games and E-Line Media’s recent release of Never Alone / Kisima Inŋitchuŋa. However to be specific it isn’t any of the traditional categories such as gameplay or even graphics that make this title stand out but instead of its presentation and the story that it tells. I would wager that this is perhaps the first and maybe even the only game to this date that has been able to accomplish what I feel this title has done.
PLATFORMS: PlayStation 4, Xbox One & PC
PUBLISHER: E-Line Media
DEVELOPER(S): Upper One Games, E-Line Media
GENRE(S): Puzzle / Platformer
RELEASE DATE: November 18th, 2014
Reviewed On: PC
Never Alone is the story of Nuna, a young Inupiat girl who embarks on a journey to find the cause of a never ending blizzard that has been threatening her village, which ends up becoming something more. You see this title isn’t based off of a fantasy world or outer-space or any other far fetched idea and instead is a telling multiple Native American folk tales, brought to life via a digital canvas. That’s not to say that Never Alone is boring or has nothing that the typical game may want to play as that couldn’t be any further from the truth. I found myself being immersed in the world thanks to how the story was laid out as well as the challenges that were presented in the game. And while the gameplay isn’t anything new it does allow for the game to flow and adds an element to the story that’s being told.
Never Alone is a 2D platform game with several elements that include chases, puzzles and of course the traditional platformer elements such as jumping. The control system is the highlight as you are able to play as Nuna and her companion, named Fox who also is an actual Fox, with a single controller or if you have a partner to play with you then you can link up for some co-op action. While you play with a single player you are able to control both characters by swapping them out by pressing “x” (I used a Xbox One controller). I did find myself being forced to swap characters in situations where I shouldn’t have as there were times where either Nuna or Fox didn’t follow each other as they should or they did start to follow and either got stuck or simply stopped and it happened more than a few times which got annoying. In addition to swapping the characters out you also have the ability to brace the character against huge gusts of the wind which can blow you either forward or backward but also has the ability to kill your character if it knocks you off a ledge or worse and a jump.
Another interesting twist is that while there is a weapon that is used in the game, a bolo, its main purpose is to use as a problem solver and to knock down obstacles in your way and not use to harm others or to defend. And that wasn’t apparent to me until I actually tried on multiple occasions to use it as a weapon. Even even so, I wasn’t a fan of the control system when using the bolo as you have to use the right analog stick, rotate it to the opposite direction of where you want to aim it and then snap it forwards. So if I wanted to shoot it to my right I would pull the stick to the left and snap it to the right which is fine. The issues occur however when you need to shoot it diagonally which more time than most end up with me missing my mark or not even getting the shot off at all. Though after some practice I was able to use the bolo like a champ, if there was such a thing as a bolo champ.
Outside the issue with the bolo, I had no complaints about the controls and the rest of the moment was responsive which allowed me to play without any trouble at all as I jumped or attempted to jump from platform to platform or from out harms way. Graphically you typically wouldn’t expect to see a lot going on especially for a budget title, however, this isn’t the case here. This game is very polished and you can even make out the touches on Nuna’s coat, the hairs on a particular pesky polar bear as well as other characters and landscapes that you encounter in the game.
But it doesn’t stop there as the animation is also done decently to the point that I played with the fox more than Nuna even when I didn’t have to as I enjoyed how well he was animated. Though at times I did notice some stiff animations from Nuna, mainly when she was using the sliding animation or when she was jumping. Outside of that don’t expect to see too much of anything else, keep in mind that this game takes place in a winter wonderland and the only thing here that’s prominent is the snowy tundra and the snow smacking you in the face. So if you hate snow then this game isn’t going to make your outlook any better towards it. And if you pay attention to the game you’ll also notice that Nuna doesn’t just pass by objects on her journey and actually turns her head to look at them while watching, just like you or I would do, something that we wouldn’t even realize. That is attention to detail.Lastly, there is an issue with the death animation of the fox at a certain part of the game and I can only say that what happened is akin to a graphical spastic attack which may only be an issue with my review copy but it was humorous none the less.
The audio, while there are subtle hints of music played, for the most part, is made up of ambient noises and audio cues, such as when the wind is about to blow past you or when you need to move out of the way of something or pay attention. It does what’s needed of it and nothing more but at the same time it’s also fitting of the environment that you’re playing in and does a good job of capturing that mood. And since I did play this on the PC I was happy to see that it did employ an option for V-Sync as well as resolutions up to a 3440 x 1440 resolution however it did end up cutting the ends of the screen off. Not a big deal and more of an annoyance.
Throughout the game you are able to unlock videos either by finding them or via normal progression that can be played in the game or at the game menu. These videos range from items you find in the game, the creation of the title, folklore and much more. They’re actually very interesting and educating to boot, I found myself watching them and even calling my children in to watch them with me or own their own as they found them interesting as well.
It’s hard not to like a title like this especially since it’s trying to do so many times that seem to be worthwhile as well as attempting to educate you on a different culture, which isn’t something that many games, especially games that you find on a gaming console would do. And it does it in an interesting format that plays out like a digital storybook while not being so blunt to make you realize that you’re learning while you’re having fun. I wish more games would do this as I’d have no issue picking them up for myself as well as my children, especially for my children.
I’m not so sure about the success of this title as the platform selection is very limited on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One that I’m not sure many gamers who own these systems would be keen on picking up this title. Especially on a day where several AAA titles such as Dragon Age: Inquisition or Grand Theft Auto 5 are being released on. Ultimately I feel that this title should have also been extended to the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and both the Wii and Wii U for a broader impact and seeing how it isn’t at the time of this review it’s going to hurt in the long run.
That said this title is a wonderful game with its own charm, stunning art direction, tons of heart and a strong female protagonist. I’m definitely recommending Never Alone / Kisima Inŋitchuŋa to anyone willing to listen to me about it.
*Review copy of game provided by the publisher.
Who knew that folk lore and education would make for an interesting game?
Bravo to both Upper One Games and E-Line Media for putting this gem out there, this is definitely a worthwhile and enjoyable title for all ages to enjoy as well as learn from. I truly hope that this title does well or at least meets their expectations I’d like to see more from these companies in the same vein as Never Alone.
- Tells a truly engaging story that will immerse you (if you let it).
- Learning while having fun, why hasn’t anyone else done this yet?
- Graphics and Audio do a great job of capturing the tone.
- Controls are responsive
- Some puzzles are aren’t clear and will take a bit of time to figure them out.
- The game is on the short side and took me about 6 hours to complete it.
- Sadly the game doesn’t have much in the way of replay.
- Glitchy AI during parts of the game.
- Being released on the same day as several AAA titles isn’t going to help the title’s success.
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