Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) is quite an interesting game. On the one hand, it is a solid platformer with some unique, and sometimes challenging puzzle elements. On the other hand, it is an important piece of media, which gives us an insight into the obscure but fascinating world of the native Alaskan people, the Iñupiaq, done in unlockable, documentary style extras. Presentation-wise, it is all done very well with plenty of insightful and interesting tidbits to uncover.
The story of the game is actually one of the old legends of these people, and hearing the actual native peoples talk about their legends and culture remind us how important tales and traditions like these can be to the people who own them. It almost seems as if the entire package was put together as much for a piece of electronic entertainment, as it was as a historical and cultural education piece. On those fronts it succeeds admirably. Never Alone, however, is a video game and needs to be reviewed as such. Luckily for all of us, the gameplay holds up just as well as the other facets of the package.
The story revolves around one of the native girls, Nuna, befriending an arctic (and magical) fox. Together they must stop an evil force, which takes the form of a large man, from destroying their entire homeland and way of life. On top of that, they must find the source of the otherworldly snow storm that is ravaging the land, and put a stop to it as well. It is a tall order for such a young girl and her animal friend, but the player finds that Nuna is more than capable of handling herself as she traverses multiple environments, each with their own unique set of challenges.
The gameplay is familiar. It is a basic side scrolling platformer with various puzzle elements thrown in to make proceeding through the levels interesting. The actual moment to moment gameplay is solid, but nothing spectacular. The real treat is watching it all unfold against a backdrop of rich and exciting native Alaskan culture. The various characters, creatures, and enemies that you meet are some of the most interesting and intriguing that I have had the pleasure of interacting with in games this year. From ghostly but helpful animal spirits, giant ghost whales (that you spend a good deal of time inside of), vicious polar bears, and terrifying, green flying apparitions, I was encouraged to press on for anticipation of what I would see next, as much as I was for just needing to complete the game.
The entire game can be completed as a single player experience, but two player co-op is really the way to go in this game. I typically do not care for multiplayer games, and I will usually avoid playing with others (except for my kids) when I can. However, co-op is really where this games shines. One player controls Nuna, and the other plays her arctic fox friend (who is, incidentally, cuter than any video game character has any business being) and the two of them constantly work together to help each other across the various obstacles and platforms necessary to proceed. None of it is brain busting, and the solutions always make sense. You can play it single player if you like, but constantly switching back and forth between characters can be a bit of a pain.
Never Alone is simply one of the better platformers I have played in quite some time. Grounded in a solid, well worn, platforming package, this title offers much more than just another side-scroller. It is an important look into the lives, culture, and legends of one of the overlooked Native American people that exist. I can only hope that Never Alone is the first of many titles to dig from what is obviously a very deep well of history, culture and mystery. Definitely give this little indie title a shot. I dare say you will not regret it.
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