Friday, 3 April 2015

Video Game Review: Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa)

Never Alone was made by Upper One Games who:

... paired world class game makers with Alaska Native storytellers and elders to create a game which delves deeply into the traditional lore of the Iñupiat people to present an experience like no other.
Never Alone is our first title in an exciting new genre of “World Games” that draw fully upon the richness of unique cultures to create complex and fascinating game worlds for a global audience.

The story is based around a traditional tale and features a young huntress named Nuna, who goes in search of the cause of a series of blizzards that is causing problems for her tribe.  An arctic fox helps her on her journey.

Chapters start with that segment of the tale narrated in Iñupiat (with subtitles) and illustrated with traditional art. The gameplay itself deals with a variety of dangers - a polar bear, a manslayer, the reaching hands of spirit children manifesting as the northern lights, etc.  Helpful Spirits are often there to aid in Nuna’s quest. The play animation is beautiful, reminiscent of Studio Ghibli style art.

Finding owls throughout the game unlocks short videos that impart cultural knowledge about the Iñupiat and life in Alaska.

The game can be played solo, with you switching between Nuna and the fox, or in co-op mode where one player controls Nuna, and the other the fox.

Some short cut scenes occur throughout play, rendered using the game engine, without any obvious visual cue to differentiate them from game play.  As a result, it wasn’t always clear when you were in control again, meaning it’s sometime easy to die not realizing that the cut scene was over.  But death simply rewinds to the nearest check point, which are so numerous you don’t lose much progress or become too frustrated if you have to replay a spot several times to get the actions right.

Early in the game, Nuna is provided with her main weapon, the bola, which is a traditional string weapon with several weighted ends that is thrown at prey to bring it down by having the cords entangle the target.  I personally found the bola hard to aim and fire, but I’m in no way an experienced gamer, so I expect that more practiced players will have no problem with the controls.  Having said that, the game was otherwise very easy to play, with the controls feeling very natural and responsive.

The game took about 1 1/2 - 2 hours to play all the way through, and was a fun experience.  It was really cool, afterwards, to watch the videos about the Iñupiat and see what life was and is like for them.  This seems to be an excellent way to learn about a different culture, and I’d love to see more games like this.

The game is available on Xbox One, PS4, and Steam (for Mac and PC).  My review was done playing the Mac version in co-op mode using a pair of bluetooth connected PS3 controllers.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Never Alone looks interesting with a cool story behind it. Thanks for sharing this review!