Video games have the ability to convey information and cultures across boarders in ways other media cannot. Whereas the other forms of information either require translators to convey meaning, and in effect remove you from the immersion of the subject, or a rather dry span of time to dedicate to studying and forced concentration, games make learning ‘fun’ (as over used as that statement is).
All arguments for gaming’s educational values aside, the new indie game Never Alone not only is an enjoyable atmospheric platformer, but one created with a very new concept at its foundation.
Now, before we go off and talk about the game’s style and mechanics, we need to talk a moment about what this game is focused on. Unlike most games that incorporate some off-screen narrator, this game’s overarching story is based on a real culture – not one spun out in a conference room between a few exhausted writers on their last dregs of coffee.
The game focuses on the lore of the Iñupiat people, a native people of Alaska. Altogether, there have been forty members of this community that have been involved in weaving the story of their people and belief into the game, ranging from common people to local elders and storytellers. With this in mind, we can now move onto the game and how it incorporates all of this intricate lore within the confines of a platformer.
The plot of the game is fairly simple: there is a blizzard that never seems to end, so a young girl (Nuna) and her artic fox (Fox) companion set off to find its source before it destroys her entire people. Along the way, players will meet major characters of Iñupiat stories while the people’s story is told in the native language of the Iñupiat (with subtitle included, of course). Between this, and a highly stylized world for player’s to explore, it’s taking cultural education in a new direction by not just making the learning experience fun, but compelling players to push further to find out more about these people and their history and beliefs.
Dealing with the game itself, there’s a lot of appeal – even for those not interested in its cultural aspects. Play wise, the game is very reminiscent of the game Limbo, if you’re familiar with other popular platformers. The game features several puzzles and enemies to overcome in a side-scrolling fashion. Along with that, the environment is just as dangerous as any polar bear you could encounter in its artic environment. Unlike Limbo, though, there is an added layer of complications within the game. The companion Nuna brings in tow, Fox, can be swapped to by players in order to solve the more difficult challenges. Additionally, this secondary character allows for local co-op with a friend to liven up the experience.
At face-value, the game is sunning. With its minimalistic character style, this allows the game developers more time to flesh out other aspects of the game – such as its environment and soundtrack. Both, of which, are fantastic and add a kind of depth to the game that only side-scrollers can touch on. Additionally, the use of native Iñupiats to tell the story of their people (and in their native language at that) is something unlike any other game that comes to mind. This game, while it will certainly never be crowned ‘Game of the Year’, is taking such an original idea to such an old style of gaming that it deserves at least a look by serious gamers – if not the commitment to a full playthrough. If I still haven’t convinced you, then check out the game’s trailer and give it another thought.