Never Alone - PlayStation 4

Release Date:

26 November 2014

Also on:

PS4 PC Xbox One

Viewing UK:

Also on USA.
7.2

Summary:

Never Alone on the PlayStation 4 is a puzzle-platformer and centered around the revitalize interest in Alaskan indigenous folklore. Our first few steps in Never Alone, as well as our first death, immediately threw us back to Limbo. The game is harsh and unforgiving but underneath that rocky veneer is a smooth nature that can be gentle and beautiful. Looking up at the Northern Lights or at a hillside with stars shining above can be beautiful. Staring into the mouth of a giant bear can also be beautiful but equally terrifying as you have no ways to really defend yourself in a substantial fashion. It is in this knowledge of absolute danger that Never Alone first captures its audience.

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Posted:
2015-10-11

Den_Merry

Writer

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Never Alone is a special title to us and one that should have been special to more people. Never Alone was developed by the guys and girls at Upper One Games and summarily released on the Xbox 1, Wii U, PC, and the PS4 (reviewed) back in 2014. The title occupies a crowded genre that has been dominated by independent developers for the past half decade or so: platformers. Platformers are a staple in the video gaming world but they are also a crutch for lazier developers to lean on. So when we saw Never Alone slide across our desk as another 'gorgeously scribed platformer' we had only one hope: that something new and unique was delivered along with it. We look at a game like Ori and the Blind Forest or Limbo and see that gorgeous platformers can have depth and texture. So with high hopes we set off into the Alaskan snow and hoped that fun would soon follow.

So Upper One Games is of course an independent developer and predictably they chose to lean on the platformer genre in order to establish themselves as game makers. The quirk, as it were, in Never Alone is that the game was developed alongside and with the help of the Alaskan Native Community. While Alaska is part of North America its isolation and strangeness is masked by the Canada that splits it off from the United States. Alaska itself is relatively unknown in more specific ways to much of the world and Upper One Games wanted to deliver an experience that made the Native community proud. The developers wanted to create a game that capably leaned on the rich texture of Alaskan folklore. So that is the frame of mind within which the game was developed and it sets the tone for many of the 'educational' portions of the title to follow.

You play as Nuna, an Alaskan Native, alongside her beloved pet fox. Your job in the game involves delving deeper and deeper into the world that the Inupiat natives know so well. It is in this strange vista of snow and wildlife that their stories, both mythical and magical, can bloom to life. In order to give appropriate life to these stories with the backdrop of a snowy vista, Upper One Games had to make sure that they took every advantage that they could with their artwork.

What we have here, at its core, is a 2D side scrolling platform. Our first few steps in Never Alone, as well as our first death, immediately threw us back to Limbo. The game is harsh and unforgiving but underneath that rocky veneer is a smooth nature that can be gentle and beautiful. Looking up at the Northern Lights or at a hillside with stars shining above can be beautiful. Staring into the mouth of a giant bear can also be beautiful but equally terrifying as you have no ways to really defend yourself in a substantial fashion. It is in this knowledge of absolute danger that Never Alone first captures its audience. Games with children, especially ones focused on teaching, don’t usually involve tons of death. This game does.

The game starts off with you watching video clips called 'Cultural Insights'. These clips are what you are primarily trying to unlock as you play the game. The more you explore the more owls you will come across. When you find an owl you unlock a video clip that looks into the real and actual lives of the Inupiat people. Once the video is done playing you are back in the thick of things. You’ll traverse across cliff faces, caves, sprawling snowy vistas, and much more. Your mission is to find out why an almost mystical blizzard has been attacking your village and you must journey through the wilderness to find the source of the 'evil'.

Your primary enemies in the game are those of the actual Alaskan reality. You’ll run into gigantic carnivorous creatures (bears being prominent for their scariness) while also having to deal with typical platformer deaths: long falls, traps and so on. Those enemies sound pretty tame but they look terrifying from the perspective of a young Inupiat girl trying to do her people right. There is enough tension here, don’t you guys worry. The tension itself is ratcheted up even higher once you realize how easy it is to die in the game. The problem is further exacerbated by one of our biggest issues with the game: the controls.

Anytime a title presents itself as a super difficult experience we expect the mechanics of the game to be rock solid. You can’t have a game with impossible difficulty as well as shoddy controls because it wouldn’t be fair or well developed. Unfortunately the controls in Never Alone are not as tight as they should be and the corresponding experience is pretty shoddy as a result. Nuna would struggle with jumps, clip through items, and even struggle to finish a puzzle that we’d absolutely done correct. Now those control issues become even more cumbersome once you involve the little fox. The fox will help you complete puzzles and push forward in certain segments but it possesses a brain that seems to love causing issues. If your fox needs to stand on a lever long enough for you to cross a bridge then you had better hold your breath because there’s no guarantee it will stay. Blegh.

But what we do think Upper One Games developed fantastically was the art of the game. Every sequence has an almost dreamy like atmosphere that really captures your eye and makes you pay just a little more attention to the magic on the screen. The colors are richly done and the textures in the game are vivid enough to bring out all of the little details of the Inupiat world. What we have here is a gorgeous title.

On the whole Never Alone struggles finding its footing thanks to shoddy controls and a thin narrative. But what IS in the game is gorgeous and definitely educational.

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Jun 14, 2015
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By:

Upper One Games

Release Date:

26/11/2014

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