Publisher: E-Line Media
Developer: Upper One Games, E-Line Media
Platform Reviewed: PS4
Release date: 18/11/2014
Never Alone, or Kisima Innjitchuna, is a puzzle platformer based upon stories of the indigenous communities of Alaska, the Inupiaq. Part game, part documentary, it’s a bold mix of tradition and technology. Working closely together Upper One Games, a company founded by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and E-Line Media, a company who specialise in educational games, have created a title that they hope will help promote the heritage of the Alaskan people and bridge the ever widening gap between generations. Have they been able to succeed with their goal or this a misguided step to reach out to the youth ?
The game follows a young girl called Nuna who sets out to save to save her people from an endless and unforgiving blizzard. Accompanying her along her journey is fox, quick and agile, he never leaves her side. Control can either be switched from either character or, if you prefer, the entire game can be co-operatively, using each characters unique abilities as they work together to navigate this harsh and barren landscape.
There are eight chapters in total, each one focussing on one part of Alaskan folklore. Through Nuna’s journey we learn about the Blizzard man, the Little People, the Manslayer, the Rolling heads and the Sky People. At certain points through each level play can be interrupted to watch a short documentary. Each one is no more than two minutes long and they are a wonderful way of explaining more about the Inupiaq heritage and philosophies. These are entirely optional and can be viewed again and again at a later date, I would recommend that you watch them as they become available, they are beautifully presented and are a wonderful way to help explain Nuna’s undertaking.
Graphically the game is beautiful. The harsh and barren landscapes have been wonderfully recreated, and the hand drawn nature lends itself perfectly to the subject matter. Characters are well animated and move with a mesmerising fluidity. The world feels alive and at times a frightening and intimidating place to be. The tribal drawings have been treated with great care and implemented beautifully, it’s a fantastic mix of old meets new. The visuals are extremely well supported by the excellent acoustics, excellently narrated, well-paced and precisely timed.
Sadly it’s relatively short, maximum amount of time to for an entire playthrough will be around the three hour mark and it’s not really a title to play more than once. It’s also a relatively easy game to navigate, the puzzles aren’t particularly taxing and the user friendly checkpoint system makes the replaying of slightly difficult sections much less arduous. And yes, whilst the graphics are impressive the fact that the entire game is rightfully based in the Antarctic the lack of variation means it become a little stale after a while.
So, as a game it falls a little short, but don’t let that put you off. Never Alone is much more than that. This is a wonderful example of how modern technology can be used to entertain and teach in unison. One of the previously mentioned documentaries explains how, due to their limited resources, the Inupiaq’s would rely on storytelling as a form of entertainment and a way of passing down their knowledge to the younger generations and this is exactly what they’ve achieved here. I’ve certainly learned more about these amazing people and it has encouraged me to find me to find out more about them. As a family we have sat around the dinner table at night and retold some of the stories we’ve heard here and discussed them at length and I can’t find any higher praise than that.
Reviewer – Ian