Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) (PS4) Review
Kalvin Martinez / Dec 2nd, 2014 No Comments
Is it possible to create a video game not limited by the constraints of the medium? By virtue of creating a video game, is the product limited only to entertain people? Those concerns always need to be considered when making a video game with loftier aims than simple entertainment. Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) is a game developed in conjunction with Alaskan natives, the Iñupiat, to spread awareness of their culture, storytelling and people. As such, it aims to be more than just a fun product.
Never Alone is not only illuminates the Iñupiat and their culture, but it is also entertains and compels. Puzzle and platforming aspects of the game are fun thanks to some inventive level design. However, there is one mechanical flaw that mars an otherwise excellent experience.
The Endless Blizzard and the Kindly Spirits
There is no end in sight for this blizzard. If something isn’t done soon, Nuna and her village will be lost. Against logic and sense, Nuna sets out to find the source of the endless blizzard and put an end to it. Naturally, her journey isn’t destined for success, and she quickly runs into trouble. She would have died if not for the help of a friendly arctic fox. Having saved Nuna, her and Fox become partners.
However, a complication arises when Nuna realizes she has more to worry about than just the blizzard. An evil man arrived in her village while she was away and set everything on fire. He is searching for something Nuna has. Now, her and Fox must outsmart and defeat this great evil while still searching for the source of the blizzard.
Never Alone tells a compelling yarn complete with all the warmth and imagination of oral storytelling. Adding to the folktale nature of the game is the narration done by an Iñupiat storyteller in the native language. It helps sell the more whimsical notes of the game, including the kindly spirits, the wild locales, and larger than life characters. Players can feel the bond between Nuna and Fox grow stronger as the two share experiences. This is aided by the character animations and reactions that each give when the other is in danger. The relationship is so potent between the two that a specific story beat hits incredibly hard because of it.
The game also includes a large number of cultural insights that players can unlock. These illuminations are discovered by locating owls within levels. Some are found by simply progressing through the game, but others require some platforming work. Insights are short, documentary style videos featuring Iñupiat speaking on aspects of their culture, and the experience is enlightening.
In Never Alone, gamers control both Nuna and Fox (they can also be controlled separately through local co-op). Players must guide the pair through treacherous arctic terrain in search of the source of the endless blizzard. When playing alone, switching between Nuna and Fox is a snap. Simply by pressing a button, players can switch quickly from Nuna to Fox and vice versa. It allows players to take advantage of each character’s unique abilities and use them to get past obstacles. When not in control, the other character will auto-follow.
There are many obstacles barring Nuna and Fox on their journey, but the characters are equipped with abilities to overcome those obstacles. Fox is able to jump much higher than Nuna, drop ropes, and run up walls and jump between them. Meanwhile, Nuna can push and pull items to create steps or weigh down objects.
Fox is more than an average arctic fox. He can interact and awaken friendly spirits when near them. This is the most interesting aspect of Never Alone’s platforming. Fox activates spirit triggers allowing Nuna to use the benevolence of these spirits to create a set of steps that carry her up a wall or help her swing across icicles. The best platforming sections involve Fox and Nuna summoning the spirits to continue. Since Fox has to be near these spirits to activate them, getting Nuna to a specific spot of the level while switching between characters becomes a challenging puzzle.
Once she gains the item, Nuna’s special ability is the use of a bola. It gives her the ability to destroy ice walls and activate spirit clusters. It is also the most problematic part of the game’s mechanics. Activating Nuna’s bola is wonky, and using it effectively is hindered by the controls. The bola is controlled entirely with the right analog stick. Players hold the right stick to the left to start charging it, aim with the top half of the stick and launch it by swiping left. This wouldn’t be a problem but the bola is canceled out if it travels too far in one direction. When this occurs, it makes the controls untenable. It is the one blight on an otherwise fun and imaginative experience.
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) is a great game held back by one tiny huge control issue. That said, what the game does right, it does right extremely well. It creates an imaginative version of the Alaskan tundra with realized characters in Nuna and Fox. For the most part, gameplay is fun and clever. It is hard creating a game with educational goals outside of entertaining people, but Never Alone straddles the line well, creating something that is informative and challenging in the process.
tags: E-Line Media , Never Alone , Never Alone Review , review , Upper One Games