Upper One’s first game, Never Alone, is a puzzle platformer available for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Instead of being just a traditional platformer, the game also provides you with a unique interactive learning experience.
One of the main purposes of Never Alone is to inform players about the culture of the Iñupiat people of Alaska. The game’s story is based on a popular Iñupiat tale in which a man seeks out the cause of a harsh blizzard. The game lines up fairly well with the original story, with only a few exceptions. One of which is the in-game protagonist is a girl, but in the original tale it was a man. You are also accompanied by a white Fox who you can control and you are often assisted by various spirits.
While the story is interesting, and definitely provides insight into Iñupiat culture, the main plot doesn’t really draw you in (at least in my experience). After fifteen minutes of gameplay, I honestly forgot that I was trying to find the source of the devastating blizzard. Fortunately, there are a lot of smaller stories and adventures within the game that keep you interested. Additionally, the entire game is narrated by a Iñupiat elder speaking in his native language, which also keeps things interesting.
To give you the best learning experience, the game has twenty-four documentary-style videos called cultural insights. As the name suggests, each video informs you about different pieces of Iñupiat culture. A video is unlocked just about every level, with some extra ones also hidden within various levels. While the videos themselves are very interesting, I’m not sure if I agree with the way they are implemented into the game. The main reason is that the videos and the game seem very disjointed. Sure, the videos may explain some things that happen in the game, but they are in a completely different world and style than the game. This made it hard for me to really get into the story of the game. To be fair, watching the cultural insights is optional, however you are constantly prompted to view them every loading screen. Like I said though, the videos are still really interesting and provide a level of education no other game has offered me. I would recommend to save them for after beating the game, but this would cause you to not understand some of the events or items in the game.
You have probably noticed that after four paragraphs I have yet to mention the most important part of most games, the gameplay. This is due to the fact the gameplay keeps you entertained and is fun for the most part, but isn’t anything spectacular. Mechanics standard to puzzle platformers such as climbing ladders, jumping, and moving boxes are all in Never Alone while you control Nuna. What makes the gameplay unique is that you can also control the fox, who is more agile and can go places Nuna cannot. The fox also can help control the spirits, which becomes a major factor in the progression of the game.
For the most part, all of the mechanics work really well, but there are minor hiccups here and there. The most notable one for me was the AI not doing what it should be at certain critical points. Normally you could give whatever you are trying a second chance and it works just fine, but restarting because of an error made by the AI can be rather annoying. There was also some minor clipping issues and not grabbing ledges or ropes you should have, but those types of errors were rather seldom and honestly appear in most platformers at one point or another. Luckily, these errors were never game-breaking and never forced me to stop playing the game.
The last aspect of the game that I should mention is the visuals and art style. The game has a rather interesting art style. It’s not photo-realistic (and it’s not trying to be) and it’s not cartoonish, but it is somewhere in the middle. Most of the animals and focal points are viewed from a relatively far distance. From this distance, they look rather interesting and maintain a unique uniformity. However, during the short times of character close-ups, you realize the character models aren’t anything amazing. However, you rarely get a close look at most of the animals or characters, and they look good more often than not.
If you’re looking to spend hours mindlessly playing a video game, I don’t think Never Alone is a game for you. But if you want a entertaining and educational experience in the form of a playable story, then the $14.99 price-tag is justifiable. With that $14.99 you get about five-hours of a well narrated story, and can finish the game knowing a lot more about the Iñupiat culture.