Never Alone blends clever platforming with cultural insight

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Never Alone blends clever platforming with cultural insight
I like to think of Never Alone as a less depressing version of 2011's indie hit, Limbo. It features similar environment-based puzzle-platforming in an unforgiving world, but its buddy-system mechanics give an encouraging sense of optimism throughout.

This isn't to say that you won't be challenged in Never Alone. You'll fail its platforming sequences frequently, and its puzzles are suitably vexing. It's a clever and solid entry in the genre, and its focus on Alaska Native culture gives it a weight and purpose beyond its inventive gameplay.I played a brief demo version of Never Alone at PAX Prime this weekend and was struck by its stark presentation. Taking on the role of a young Inupiat girl named Nuna, players trek through the harsh Alaskan terrain, bracing against overpowering winds as they hop gaps and scale steep cliffsides.

At any point during gameplay, players can shift control to a white fox who follows in the girl's footsteps. Similar to last year's Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, both Nuna and the fox have unique traversal abilities that aid in clearing obstacles and progressing to the next checkpoint in a linear quest. An early puzzle requires the fox to walljump to the top of a cliff and then drop a rope that Nuna can climb, so that the two can be reunited at the top.

The fox can also interact with ghostly spirits found throughout Never Alone's wintry world. Often, spirits linger high above the game's world, watching the player-controlled pair struggle against the elements. When the fox stands on top of a hovering spirit, though, the ghost lowers and turns into a platform that Nuna can climb to reach higher ground.

The early platforming challenges seen in Never Alone's demo sound simple, but players must also contend with an overpowering blizzard throughout. When the snow in the game's background shifts direction, that's the players cue to take cover, as a powerful gust of wind will carry away all foreground elements – including the fox and Nuna – soon afterward. Gameplay involves a successful balance of platforming, teamwork, and awareness of one's surroundings, as the environment itself presents constant danger.

Alaska Native culture informs Never Alone's mechanical and thematic focus on cooperation. Throughout gameplay, players unlock video clips of northern wildlife backed by narration from Alaska Native elders, hunters, and teenage residents, giving context to the challenges players face in the game's world.

These optional clips serve as more than educational backdrop; they're part of a concerted initiative to raise awareness of the resident Inupiat community. The Cook Inlet Tribal Council funded the project, and works closely with developer E-Line Media to ensure accuracy and reverence to its source material.

While the demo's gameplay largely revolved around using the fox's unique abilities to solve puzzles, E-Line Media's Dima Veryovka says players will find a bolo during the quest, allowing Nuna to interact with the game's environments to a greater extent. The game's early structure hints that future puzzles will revolve around finding creative and unexpected puzzle solutions within a limited skill set, encouraging experimentation throughout.

Never Alone premieres for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC platforms (via Steam) on November 4.

[Images: E-Line Media]
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