“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”
“The following is a guest post by The Midnight Mystic Mage.”
Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) was a beautiful and informative 2D platformer with a two character system that has you swapping between the fox and the girl to achieve different tasks. This could be done with two players and I honestly think that would make the experience more enjoyable because at times you have to swap very quickly and move the characters a bit far to get through different obstacles. This would be much more seamless with a second player taking care of the different tasks while you focus on the tasks of one.
It does a great job teaching you all about the culture of the indigenous people of Alaska, the Inupiaq. It swaps back and forth between gameplay and live action video of people from the tribes explaining life in the brutal conditions. Learning about this lifestyle is really what kept me personally interested until the end. It was so cool to hear them talking about how they are able to hunt for food in the month of November when there is no sunlight for the entire month. This among other anecdotes from the native people was a very entertaining addition and I believe that it gave the game an extra bit of depth than it would not have had otherwise.
The young girl and the fox set off on a journey that is an old tale of folklore called Kunuuksaayuka passed down by the elders. It is traditionally a boy in the story but for the video game they decided to have the protagonist be represented as a girl. The girl comes home after being chased by a polar bear to find that her village has been burned to the ground and destroyed. She runs into a man wearing a mask who inexplicably knows who she is and asks her to retrieve a drum of his that some mischievous little guys stole from him.
After finding and returning the drum the girl is presented with the bola, which is used to open many ice covered areas in the game, and is traditionally a weapon used for hunting. An evil man soon catches up to the girl and it becomes clear that the man was looking for the bola when he burned her village to the ground. The girl and the fox make a break for it using the new weapon to aid them in their journey moving forward.
A very beautiful section of the game comes when the girl and the fox come across the Northern Lights. A phenomenon that is clearly visible from Alaska and is tied into the gameplay in a very interesting way. They say that the Northern Lights would come down and grab the children if they ventured too far, surely as a means to keep them close to the adults and not wandering off into hostile territory. So to tie this in they made the Lights fly around the screen leaving a green trail everywhere it goes. If you come across the front of the trail where there is a face and arms pictured, you will be snatched up by the lights, just as in the old tales of the elders. An interesting touch and it made for some very beautiful level designs.
After a perilous journey, tragedy strikes and (spoiler: highlight to reveal) the fox dies after a hard fall. The girl is heartbroken but as in the title she will learn that she is never alone even when her dear friend has passed on. The spirit of the fox comes to aid her on the rest of the journey and we are taught a valuable lesson that the natives believed about the spirits of animals. From this point on the floating spirit is the second player.
This leads to a bunch of new and cool mechanics, such as obviously the flying around to any point on the screen, but there are many other things it introduces as well. The fox can awaken the spirits of the land and help by moving things to help the girl get around, such as the branches of a tree or something to get a grip while climbing up the side of a mountainous area. I wasn’t sure I was going to like this change at first, but when I saw all of the different mechanics that it brought along with it I was sold. The change helps to bring a sort of new life to the game when you are starting to get a little bit burnt out on doing the same types of environmental puzzles with the two characters.
So the apparent mission of the two is to hunt down whatever might be causing the everlasting blizzard that has been plaguing all of the people. After searching long and hard and finding their way through many strange and difficult environments, they come across the answer. There is an Ice Giant that is constantly hammering away at icy mountain tops, causing the incredible snowfall and wind that has made it so hard to reach this point.
The girl notices a way to get up to the hammer of the giant and with the help of her spirit friend she climbs up and knocks it out of his hands. The two make their way to the hammer and are able to damage it so that the giant can not use it to cause the terrible blizzards anymore and the girl is immortalized as a hero to the people. It wasn’t a very long game but the story is rich with culture and history, it makes for a very unique experience and the gameplay was good enough to at least keep you going as you uncover more and more about this unique sect of people who have endured such a harsh and rugged land.
The 8-Bit Review
The graphics were very enchanting at times, I loved the different areas with the Northern Lights and overall they were done very well. It isn’t one of the most visually memorable games of all time but the look and feel was very nice for a 2D platformer and went very well with all the storytelling and traditions that you learn about while playing.
Very calming and atmospheric, the soundtrack goes a long way towards helping with the calm and mellow overall feel of the game. I’ve attached a quick two minute taste of what the music sounds like so that you can get a feel of what is playing as you guide the girl and the fox on their epic journey to save the village from the everlasting blizzard.
It got to be a bit monotonous playing as a single player. Maybe that isn’t the best option of how to play but I was so taken in by the story that I just had to finish it and see what it was about. I mentioned earlier that it can be a nuisance having to switch over between characters while doing actions with both in a timely manner to make your way through an environmental puzzle. That being said the puzzles were not overly convoluted or incredibly frustrating to accomplish, it just comes off as a game that would be much easier and more fluent to play through with two players rather than alone.
It is a beautiful story that is rich with culture and heritage. You get to learn the history of a very interesting group of people and it is really the main draw of the game in my opinion. It is obvious that they had a very close hand in directing the story and the cut scenes where the actual people who have lived in the conditions being described make it feel like a sort of documentary that you are able to take control of and play while you learn. That dynamic makes it unlike any game that I can remember and I hope to see more games in the future that use this short informative style. It was a really cool way to get a taste of a completely different culture that is so vastly different from anything most of us could imagine living in.
I’m not sure the best fix for it but in certain situations the swapping over and having to get something done with both characters could be quite annoying. Maybe there should be a limited amount of assistance of AI in areas that require too much fast action by both the girl and the fox. Regardless I’m sure this score would be higher if I was playing with a second player but as for playing solo it could be a bit of a hassle.
I never got very stuck in the game unless it was because of some of the aforementioned issues with quick swapping of players. The puzzles were very easy and I believe the main purpose is to display the story in a compelling manner and have it be more of a cakewalk on the gaming side. As far as that goes I think they did a pretty great job, you are always wondering how this or that might tie into the way of life of the tribe or what different things might be meant to represent.
The documentary part is very unique and very different from anything I know in games. The gameplay reminds me a bit of Brothers, a game that I only started but never got to finish. There is still so much by way of influence from the Inupiaq on the game that it is definitely a very unique, creative, and different game.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
I was never blown out of my chair by the game at any point, but it kept me intrigued the whole way through. I love to learn about history and different cultures and environments and there was plenty of that to go around with this one. It’s not too often that you get to hear these types of stories straight from the horse’s mouth so for that reason Never Alone is one that needs to be seen.
Aggregated Score: 6.8
The Midnight Mystic Mage is the resident writer of sublimereviews.wordpress.com, a reviewer of games, books, and film, and a fan of all things horror and spooky. Follow the link… if you dare!