NS Review: Never Alone (Wii U eShop)
I have said it before, but the Wii U is having a little bit of resurgence with me. This isn’t because of games like Splatoon or Yoshi’s Woolly World, as incredible as they both are, but it is owing to the slow flow of truly wonderful indie titles that have been trickling onto the eShop. These games reject the spectacle of AAA titles in return for giving the players genuine experiences; with this in mind, the wonderful platformer, Never Alone or to use its full title Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna).
This title has possibly one of the most unique premises I have ever seen as the story is an amalgamation of folklore. The narrative of the game brings together multiple real stories told by Iñupiaq tribes in Alaska, told by the people themselves, in their original language. The result is a wonderful tale of a little girl and her guardian, a white fox, and their journey across a harsh tundra to find the cause of the relentless blizzards that threaten the lives and livelihoods of her family and village. The story is ethereal and fantastical, but feels very true to the roots of a culture that many (including myself before playing this game) do not know about or understand.
The game itself is a puzzle platformer, using either both characters (Girl and Fox) simultaneously – switching between them when needed – or roping in another player to play the game in co-operative two-player. It has the standard fare of new abilities or items being acquired, leading to more and more complex puzzle elements. So what begins as more simple puzzles involving merely having to be a particular character to progress, later becomes complex sequences requiring multiple switches between them taking actions or even the occasional puzzle that leaves you momentarily nonplussed.
It’s this last point that strikes a chord with me the most personally. As the game, beyond the basic control tutorials, gives you very minimal guidance as to how to progress; there were several occasions where I was required to genuinely think about what it was that I was expected to do (almost every sequence in the game involving polar bears, for instance). It has been a long time since I played a game that has so little hand-holding, so this was refreshing instead of frustrating. In fact, aside from some occasional control niggles where the buttons were not quite a responsive as they needed to be, Never Alone had pretty much zero frustration.
Aesthetically, this game is INCREDIBLE. Musically, visually, it is one of the most stunning games I have played in a long times. The two separate art-styles, one for the story-telling sections and the other for the main gameplay, are both wildly different but work in a bizarre synergy that perfectly suits the game that they contribute towards. The music, although mostly indistinct, perfectly suits the limitless and lonely expanse of snow and ice in which the player is exploring. In short, Never Alone a wonderful concept, executed in a completely perfect way.
If you add to this the entirely optional, but highly recommended, Cultural Insights / Artefacts that you can view, Never Alone becomes a neat package of culture to consume. The Artefacts section allows you to find out more about the objects and clothes that make up Iñupiac life, and the Insights are snippets of beautiful documentary-style video in which Iñupiat people discuss various aspects of the lives, beliefs and folklore. The game itself is rather short (I completed it in less than a day of broken play – so about 3 hours roughly), but I have come away from finishing it feeling like I have completed a genuine journey; something that cannot be said for most games.
I would go as far as to say that this is possibly the only occasion in which I have learned something tangible and worthwhile whilst playing a video game, not something about gaming mechanics or controls but something about the world we live in. Never Alone won’t be for everyone, but if you want to try something unexpected and which will open your eyes, this is for you and I couldn’t recommend it more. It’s a paltry £12.99 on the Wii U eShop, which is a steal for this kind of experience and is officially released today.
So, will you consider downloading this game or have you already played it before? Either way, let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@reuthegamer).
Thank you so much to Upper One Games and E-Line Media for very kindly supplying us with a review copy of the game (they deserve your support).