Indie games seem to get a bad rap from so called “gamers” when they appear on their beloved consoles. These “gamers” whine and complain that they don’t want indie games because they take away from development of AAA games, which in my opinion is total rubbish. If you’re on of these gamers who has never delved into the world of quality indie gamers, you’re missing out on ton and tons of very unique games that in many cases, are much more fun to play than some AAA games. Not only that, indie games offer unique experiences that many AAA game developers just don’t want to experiment with.
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) is a great example of a game that only an indie developer could make because of the passion and personal experience needed to create such a game like this. You see, Never Alone deals with Alaskan Native folk lore and culture (specifically that of the Iñupiaq tribe), a subject that has never been explored before in gaming. This is a game that was developed by those who are very close to the subject, mainly the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and their newly created game studio, Upper One Games. With the help of industry veterans, the CITC craeted Never Alone, a game that authentically depicted true Alaskan culture and history by incorporating the stories and myths that have sustained Alaska Natives. Not only that, the game is completely narrated in native Iñupiaq. The developers have gone out of their way to make this a truly authentic game, and it shows. It’s a beautifully created game that must be experienced by those who truly love gaming, history, art, and storytelling.
Never Alone tells the tale of a young girl who sets out on a journey to discover why her village has been ravaged by snow and ice from a never ending blizzard. Her people face certain starvation unless she can uncover the reason for this blizzard and stop it to save her people. It’s a simple story, but one that is very thoroughly explored in the game, not only through gameplay, but also through little short videos that appear as sort of a documentary that gives insight into the rich culture and folklore of the Iñupiaq people. It’s a story that really draws you in and has you rooting for the character and caring about what happens to them.
I don’t want to spoil anything else, but again, it’s a game that really must be played and experienced first hand.
Never Alone is a puzzle platformer. What I mean by that is that it’s a platformer that requires you to solve environmental puzzles in order pass certain areas. These aren’t overly complicated but most will require that you switch back and forth between Nuna and her arctic fox. Some things only Nuna can do, like push and pull boxes, and use her bola weapon. Her Arctic fox however can reach high ledges by climbing up walls and also being able to perform wall jumps to get even higher. Never Alone requires that you make use of both these characters in order to progress through the game.
What is neat here is that Never Alone employs a local co-op mode which allows you and a friend to play the game at the same time, each one of you playing as one of the characters. This is quite refreshing as there aren’t that many games out there anymore that do that. Local co-op is played out on the same screen and you can only progress if both characters are in range. I love this feature as it allows me to play with my son at the same time and it’s a feature I really wish more games would have.
Note, the below video does spoil the first 10 minutes of the game so watch at your own risk. It does however show you exactly what gameplay is like along with what to expect when it comes to the art and storytelling. It’s really a fascinating game that needs to be seen and heard.
Never Alone is a game that simply blew my mind with its whole presentation. This is one of the most beautiful games I’ve seen all year for an indie game. In fact, I’d even say it’s better looking than some of the more mainstream games out there as well. The developer did a fantastic job here capturing the spirit of the subject matter as well as the atmosphere and tone of the story.
With a game like this, you’d figure that there couldn’t be much they could do to make snow look good or a snowy environment look good because of just how white everything is. You’d be wrong. Upper One Games did a great job capturing just how brutal and beautiful snow can be. One moment you’re standing in awe of just how beautiful and peaceful the landscape can be and the next, you’re fighting a raging blizzard featuring more individual snowflakes than you can count.
Character models in the game are also exquisitely done. The fur coat Nuna is wearing isn’t just some blocky object with fur texture plastered on. You can actually see the fur moving about in the wind. The same goes for the fur on the arctic fox. All of it just looks like I could reach out and touch it and it would be as soft as it would be in real life. It’s really that good in Never Alone and one could argue that this game is just pure art, one that will leave you breathless.
On the audio side of things, I really love how the narration is done in pure, native Iñupiaq. It adds a layer of authenticity to the game that just can’t be matched in other games. The devs did a great job sticking to the subject matter and really committed themselves 100% to bringing us this true Alaskan tale.
I can’t express enough just how much I love Never Alone. It’s such a fantastically beautiful game that is not only fun, but educational. Yes, I said educational because there is so much you learn about the Iñupiaq and their culture. What’s amazing to me is that I actually wanted to learn about them. There aren’t many games out there that feature the Iñupiaq, or I should say there aren’t any. Never Alone is a game in which while you’re playing, you get sucked into this gorgeous world and want to root for this little girl and her arctic fox to “win.” You want to see her through every part of her journey and in doing so, you learn so much.
This might be the first time where I can really say that there was nothing about this game I disliked. I could not find anything wrong with it. The graphics and audio are amazing, the story is just the best and one you actually want to follow through with, and the game is genuinely fun to play. The environmental puzzles themselves aren’t terribly hard either, which helps with the pacing of the game and keeps things moving along to keep you interested.
Overall, Never Alone is a game that I highly recommend for anyone who yearns for a game that has an engaging story and engaging gamplay. This is truly a game that extends beyond where traditional games usually stop. You owe it to yourself to experience this fantastic tale, you and your whole family.
This review is based on a PSN download of Never Alone, provided by E-Line Media. Images: E-Line Media.