There is a peculiar connection between a person and their pet.
An unconditional love that we feel they reciprocate, that they understand. Other people will see you talking to your cat or buying clothes for your dog and deem you mad because they can’t see this connection. In Never Alone, that connection is very visible.
Nuna, a young Inuit girl, traverses the icy wilderness and the dangers that lurk within it. Her Arctic fox accompanies her and we see their protective relationship up close throughout this beautiful puzzle-platformer. But this is more than just a game. It’s a cultural insight into the lives of the Iñupiaq people. It combines the real history, true facts and myths and legends of the Alaskan inuit tribe into one gorgeous, glorious world.
The graphics are fluid and realistic. The fur on the fox and Nuna’s coat look soft and warm. Even the blizzard looks and sounds real. Whether it’s because of the terrible British summer or the icy scenery, I felt a cold chill every time I played it.
The fox is the selling point of the game. I bought it mostly for the fact I could play as a fox, and he is every bit as graceful and swift to play as I imagined. Nuna is still fun to play, but she can sometimes feel slow and clompy in comparison to the fox. However, this makes it more realistic and works well.
Never Alone is great in either co-op or solo mode. The puzzles are easy and enjoyable with someone else, as Nuna and the fox have different abilities. For instance, the fox can jump higher and seek help from animal spirits. Nuna can climb, and throw a bola to break objects. The difficulty level is higher on your own, as often you need to do something as one character to help the other, but most of the time the AI do as you want them to (although the camera isn’t always as so well-behaved). When you crouch to avoid the blizzards sweeping you off your feet, your companion will do the same. Eventually even the movement of the wind becomes pivotal to solve the puzzles you face.
The further into the game you get, the stranger and darker the landscape becomes. Soon you are being carried by the spirit of a gnarled tree, or transported across an ocean by a school of spirit fish. You meet several creatures from Inuit stories: Little People, the Blizzard Man, Sky People, etc. Each are depicted a little differently from the real world. The Sky People represent the Northern Lights, and will carry you away if you get in their path. The Little People will run from you, but cause mischief to do you harm.
The narration is read in the native tongue of a real life Iñupiaq, with subtitles on screen. This is a nice touch, and it really feels as though the developers of this game really wanted to give us as much of the culture as possible. There is a tear-inducing, heartbreaking moment in this game, and it comes so unexpectedly that you’re left sobbing, “No! You can’t do that!” The atmosphere of loss is perfectly executed. The lack of dialogue and narration is a good connotation of how words simply do not do feelings justice. It allows us to be swallowed up by the emotions of what we are seeing without having to process words. However, the emotional moment is – in my opinion – ruined by what happens next. I won’t spoil it, but my boyfriend watching me burst out with the line, “…what? Why is he wearing a fox onesie?”
After this point, the fox gains new abilities. He can fly. This is a useful skill, but it adds a whole new level of difficulty for Nuna, who is left to wait for the fox to bring spirits or lower ropes for her to climb.
At any point in the game you can watch insights into the real lives of the Iñupiaq tribe. A series of documentary-like videos tells you more about Arctic foxes, animal spirits, caribou clothing and how they survive in their climate. You unlock these videos by finding the owls on your journey through the snow, but you aren’t forced to watch them. They’re simply there to view at your own discretion.
Overall, Never Alone is a beautiful expression of a lesser known culture. As a game it is a little short, but still fun to play. It would be interesting to see more games like this; perhaps a series of games showing the lives and stories of cultures from all around the world.