Never Alone is a puzzle-plaformer game, based on folklore from the Inupiaq people of Alaska. The game was made as a partnership between Upper One games, the first indigenous-owned video game developer in the US, and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, and is specifically designed to not only be a compelling game, but also to share Inupiaq stories and culture with players around the globe.
Never Alone is an absolutely beautiful game. The animation and art style are stunning. I would recommend it for that alone. But as you progress in the story, you also unlock cultural insight videos, short clips that explain, through interviews and the like, elements of the culture seen in the story. Get a weapon in the game? Here, it’ll tell you, if you’re interested, what the weapon actually is. Meet strange underground-dwelling people? Here are the legends about them. There are short introductions to the Inupiaq belief systems, to some of their cultural objects, to their community, their hunting styles and storytelling traditions and legends about the Northern Lights.
The game itself is about three hours long. You control both a girl, Nuna, and a fox, as they seek the source of a never-ending blizzard that has been plaguing Nuna’s village. You can play the game as a local co-op, with one person controlling Nuna and one controlling the fox, and honestly, I think that’s a much better experience. Although it’s possible to play the game as one player, as I did, some of the puzzles aren’t well-optimised for it. Some of the later challenges require switching back and forth between Nuna and the fox under time pressure, and I found myself dying many, many times because of how difficult it was to coordinate both movements by myself. The AI was also occasionally frustratingly inadequate. There’s nothing quite like controlling one character and having the other fall idiotically off a platform instead of standing still, or having them move away from where you’ve placed them, causing the platform the other character was using to disappear. Some of the puzzles also get a little repetitive by the end, but that might have been because of how frustrated I was getting with all these deaths — especially as you see the surviving character mourn the dying one every single time, and seeing that heartbroken fox broke my heart too.
So if you’re a gameplay first kind of person, I wouldn’t recommend this one. But if you’re willing to overlook some flaws in service of an overall story experience, then Never Alone is fantastic, with a lot to teach you, a great story, and absolutely beautiful graphics (and, of course, the fox is adorable).