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Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) Review

Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) Review

I had a great time playing this unusual game and I think you will, too.


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Genre: Puzzle Platformer
Release Date: November 18, 2014

Here’s another short review for a short game.

In the late ’90s and early 2000s, I realized I had a nerdy affection for “infotainment” games. Remember games like Paris 1313 or Crusader? Or even the games they made of the British television show Connections? Not to mention the adventure game they managed to make based on the novel Sophie’s World?

Late last year, I rapturously reviewed another game with infotainment elements, Valiant Hearts.

Here’s another one.

Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) was developed by Upper One Games, which purports to be the “first indigenous-owned video game developer and publisher in US history.” It’s based on the lore of the Iñupiat people of Alaska.

The game is what I would describe as a platforming adventure. You control two characters: a young Iñupiat girl named Nuna and a fox (sort of).

This two-character setup is immediately reminiscent of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons from 2013. This is because of the two games’ similar length, tightness of focus, and reliance on two simultaneous protagonists.

There’s an important difference between the way the two games handle the dual protagonist setup, however. In Brothers, one player controlled both characters at the same time. In Never Alone, the game is played either by two players in co-op mode, or by one player who switches between the two characters at will. That’s a nice bit of flexiblity.

One day, Nuna is away from the village on an errand and when she comes back, she sees a terrible man attacking her village! This event sets up the momentum for the rest of the game. It’s a high-stakes chase to save her people.

The game feels like an adventure even though mechanically, it’s mostly very gentle sidescrolling platforming. Nuna and Fox can go right or left, and sometimes up and down. Sounds simple? It is, at first. But as the game progresses the challenges get more and more chewy. There are tricky jumps to navigate, nature spirits that provide help, and bad guys to avoid.

Despite the game’s wintry northern setting, there’s a surprising and pleasing amount of variety in the environments and obstacles: you’ll have to navigate snowy dunes, ruined and abandoned villages, ice caves, underwater caves, evil trees, rocky crags and more.

The game is extremely attractive to look at, though I admit there may be a little player bias here (I like almost any movie or game with snow).

There has been some grumbling in other reviews of this game that the controls are wonky and unpredictable. I won’t deny that in some of the more challenging sequences, a certain amount of frustration is inevitable. But it never was too big an obstacle for me, nor did it cause me to lose interest in moving forward. To be fair, I sometimes struggled with the controls in Brothers as well, particularly in the climbing and jumping controls.

Like Brothers, Never Alone contains a few “boss battles.” The reason for my quotes is that they are not traditional action or role-playing game boss battles. They are mostly fast-paced puzzles in which you exploit the environment to survive. I found these encounters fairly intuitive and very satisfying.

But let’s get back to the infotainment aspect of the game. As you play, you periodically unlock videos that you can watch at your leisure. They are a series of very well-produced, fascinating and heartfelt bits of information about the lives, history and culture of the Iñupiat people. I enjoyed every one of them, and they definitely enriched my gaming experience.

I only have one complaint about the videos: Contrary to my hopes, I had not unlocked all of the videos before finishing the game. I realized that some of the videos were rewards for particular types of behavior or otherwise optional activities. I was annoyed that the game gave me no feedback on this, so that I had no clue what sorts of things I needed to do in order to see the rest of the videos. This still annoys me, as I’d really like to go back and watch the videos I missed.

Never Alone is about the same length as Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which is four to five hours, depending on your play style. I had a great time playing this unusual game and I think you will, too.

Grade: B+
Unusual and fascinating setting
Engaging and informative videos on Iñupiat life  
Appealing protagonists
Fun puzzles and challenges to overcome

Lovely graphics  

Overall beautiful vibe and atmosphere    
– Sometimes controls are a bit wonky
– Game is pretty short

System Requirements
      OS: Windows 7
      Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E4500 @ 2.2GHz or AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ @ 2.8 GHz
      Memory: 2 GB RAM
      Graphics: GeForce 240 GT or Radeon HD 6570
      DirectX: Version 9.0c
      Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
      Additional Notes: Xbox 360 or equivalent gamepad required for local co-op
      MINIMUM Mac:
      OS: 10.8.5 (Mountain Lion)
      Processor: 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5
      Memory: 2 GB RAM
      Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000 series
      Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
      Additional Notes: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or equivalent gamepad required for local co-op. Gamepads may require third party driver.

Ray Ivey

Ray Ivey

A gaming freakazoid, Ray enjoys games on all platforms. Also loves board games, mind games, and all puzzles. Co-wrote the Entertainment Tonight trivia game and designed puzzles for two Law & Order PC games. Also a movie freak, bookworm, and travel bug. Thinks games of all kinds are a highly underappreciated force for social good, not to mention mental and psychological health.   Ray's favorite adventures include the "Broken Sword" and "Journeyman Project" franchises, "The Dark Eye," "The Feeble Files," "Sanitarium," "Limbo," "Machinarium," "Riven," "The Neverhood," and "Azrael's Tear." His favorite non-adventures include the "Thief," "Uncharted," and "Ratchet & Clank" franchises, all of the Bioware RPGs, Skyrim, and Final Fantasy XII.   Ray writes about the movies for the Bryan/College Station Daily Eagle, which is the old-fashioned thing called a "newspaper." He's been on eight game shows. He's taught in seven countries and has visited twenty-one. His favorite classic movie star is Barbara Stanwyck and his favorite novel is "The Hotel New Hampshire" by John Irving.

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