Developer: Upper One Games
Publisher: E-Line Media
Release Date: November 18th, 2014
Available On: Nintendo Wii U, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Puzzle Platformer
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PlayStation 4. There may be differences between versions.
It’s interesting seeing a game based on the Inupiat, a culture that is almost never represented in most media, let alone games. Never Alone tries to show off a new culture while combining a co-op puzzle platformer for people to enjoy. Yet is it worth braving the cold for this game?
The best part of Never Alone actually has nothing to do with the game itself. Bundled with the game is a documentary about the Inupiat. Unlocked in pieces by finding hidden owls scattered around the game, I highly recommend playing Never Alone with a guide open specifically to find all of these in one go. The documentary is interesting and offers insight into a life that usually has none. The game’s actual story is also worth paying attention to. After her village is hit by an endless blizzard, a young girl named Nuna sets off to find the cause. Along the way she meets up with an arctic fox, who seems to have a mysterious connection to the spirits, and the Manhunter, who is destroying villages in search of something. The story is a heartfelt tale that further made me care about an otherwise ignored culture.
The problem is that Never Alone is also a puzzle platformer and this is where it completely falls apart. At all times both Nuna and Fox are on the screen, and you can either play the game co-op with one player controlling each character (which I highly recommend) or can switch between them by pressing a button. Each character has their own skills. Nuna can push objects around, climb ropes, and can later get a bola to throw at objects to break them. On the other hand, Fox can crawl into small areas, jump off of walls, and make spirit platforms visible by standing near them. Both characters share the same basic problem: the platforming is clunky, sluggish, and sometimes feels flat out non-responsive. Nuna’s bola feels extremely difficult to aim with any sort of accuracy, while Fox’s ability to detect platforms is never clearly visualized and trying to figure out if there’s a platform for him to discover, or where he can go before it vanishes, is basically trial-and-error.
I recommended playing the game co-op because the AI is simply not up to snuff. At various points of the game the character I was not playing as would fall off of ledges, miss jumps, run into traps, and basically find new and unique ways to get killed. Worse, every time they died I had to restart at a checkpoint. Many of the restarts were simply out of my control because my AI buddy decided to run off another cliff. The AI also can’t actually solve puzzles. I had to switch between the two to make sure anything was getting done. This was more frustrating than it needed to be, with levels often feeling like they took forever to complete
The problems just kept adding up the further in the game I went. Chase scenes seemed to require far more precision platforming than the game actually could manage. Blizzard wind was a common mechanic, but it often felt unpredictable and I would be caught jumping when a random wind blew through. I don’t want to spoil the end game much, but one character gains a whole new set of skills at the end that are basically unusable thanks to poor controls. It seems like the longer I actually played Never Alone the greater the temptation to just skip playing the game and just watch that documentary on Youtube or something. Thankfully the game is at least on the short end, I was finished with Never Alone in about 4 hours.
Never Alone’s story, both of the game and of the documentary, are nice interesting pieces that tell things from a very unique standpoint. Yet I could never recommend actually buying Never Alone as the game suffers from way too many problems. It’s a shame that the game is a disaster, but hopefully in the future we’ll see more “documentary games” on obscure cultures.