I remember being outraged, back when Never Alone (or Kisima Innitchuna) was originally released, by the review posted on Eurogamer, and not necessarily because they gave the game an unprecedented 10/10 that I just couldn’t believe for a second. Really it was the allegorical and 100% subjective tone of their review that drove me crazy. Now, Jim Sterling has done an excellent and hilarious job in illustrating why the 100% objective review is utter bullshit too, but it swings both ways and some objectivity is needed here when reviewing this puzzle-platformer. Never Alone is a videogame funded and created not only as a fun 2-3 hour diversion, but also to teach and preserve the traditions and mythology of the Iñupiat people of Alaska, and in this regard it succeeds very well. Never Alone is in fact a *very good* videogame, especially if you like other similar platforming games like Limbo, which I’m going to bring up a few times in this review, and you should probably give it a go when it’s in a sale. What Never Alone isn’t, at least for me, was a deeply emotional and moving experience, and the game never quite pushes itself into the “great” category.
The meat and bones of Never Alone lies with standard puzzle-platforming, the likes of which are now *very* well documented in the indie games scene, with the shtick that you have to toggle back and forth between the little girl and a helpful arctic fox in order to solve the environmental puzzles. You can also play this game cooperatively with someone controlling the fox, but this sounds like it would complicate what is actually a fairly basic game. Definitely leaning on the easy side, I found most of the game pretty straight forward, and it was only during a couple of boss-fights that Never Alone had me briefly scratching my head. In fact, this is very much a game designed to be inoffensive and appeal to families/children, with there being no violent deaths (even at the hands of a rampaging polar bear who just swats you down) or combat to speak of, despite having access to a weapon. This fits in with the “edutainment” concept of the game, and as you progress through Never Alone you will unlock short documentary videos that the game prompts you to play and learn about the people of Alaska, their beliefs as well as wider topics such as climate change and its effect on the environment. These short videos are *fantastic*, and the way that the game either lets you watch them on the fly or save them up to watch later means they never impact the flow of the game, only adding to it and enriching its world.
The game is actually a lot of fun to play, as you traverse through sparse but well-realised environments with a distinct art-style, solving puzzles and working together with your canine companion. However, what it lacks is emotional resonance and impact. In Limbo when the little boy dies it is so halting and so darkly violent that it has real impact, you don’t want it to happen again, and you’ll try your best to avoid it despite their being no real penalty. Never Alone also has the same quick-death and quick-respawn lack of penalty, but here it is also with a lack of impact because death is usually offscreen or just involves going a bit limp. The plight of your foxy friend is also slighted because there are no touching cutscenes or any other sort of interaction to build up a relationship between the two characters; the fox is really just a tool to manipulate the environment. The aim of the game is to find out why there is a ferocious blizzard constantly blowing through the village and after an epic and varied journey across Alaska it’s actually kind of an anti-climax. Still the game is undeniably a lot of fun to play, and is a competent and well-made little platformer with some clever sections and some exciting chase sequences.
Objectively then, Never Alone would of course be a “good game” because it is well made, inoffensive and a lot of fun to play. The cultural insights that you get from unlocking and finding the documentary videos as well as the high production qualities further elevate it to a “very good” game but never a great one. A great game, like Limbo, stays with you long after you finish playing and resonates within memory for a while afterwards; Never Alone is unfortunately too slight an experience to have this heavy emotional impact or profundity. Still, if you’re ever after a quick-to-play puzzle-platforming game or wish to know more about one of the most northern parts of our planet with its indigenous peoples, certainly give this neat little title a try.