Never Alone (Xbox One) Review

Never Alone is a beautifully distinctive game and not just for its indigenous pedigree. Made (in part at least) by members of the native Alaskan Inupiat tribe, this is a brilliant example of why myths and fairy tales make a wonderful basis for video games.

The game places you as a young girl named Nuna, whose village is being ravaged by a terrible blizzard. Nuna is special. She’s smart, tenacious, and a great hunter. In this seemingly endless blizzard, food becomes scarce and Nuna travels out to hunt something for her people. When she returns, she finds her village burnt, her people gone, and a new traveling companion at her side.

Aided by a fox who is more than he seems, Nuna sets out to discover where her tribe has gone and the source of the endless winter. Never Alone is really two quests. The first is Nuna’s quest to hunt down the killer who ravaged her village so violently. This mysterious man is after something and willing to destroy anything in his way to get it—especially Nuna.

After that, Nuna must find a way to rescue her people from the original problem of the massive blizzard. It’s a really interesting facet that these two goals aren’t exactly related, allowing for a surprisingly engaging narrative. The story is told using both the in-game engine and through really great native-style art cutscenes.

The game itself is very much in the style of side-scrolling puzzle games like Limbo and even a bit like Child of Light (minus the RPG elements). It’s grim and stark, but not as downtrodden and bleak as Limbo. There’s a darker sense of fairy tale whimsy here like Child of Light, but Never Alone is a far different style of story and atmosphere.

Taking place in an ice-locked landscape where killer polar bears, ancient spirits, and brutal storms rage, the game creates a distinctive sense of place. Nuna and fox must traverse this dangerous world together, solving puzzles to let them pass obstacles. To that end, there’s a lot of the sort of navigation puzzles you’d expect. Nuna can run, jump, climb, and manipulate objects. Fox can scurry up walls Nuna can’t reach, kick down ropes, distract enemies, and, as the game progresses, he becomes a more vital character.

To solve the many puzzles and obstacles requires switching between the two characters frequently or playing with a friend so that both characters are active participants. Never Alone is more successful as a two-player game, but still excellent when played alone. Still, playing together is an act of trust, since the game frequently requires players to work in tandem to survive. The pacing accommodates a single player, but a reliance on trial and error and expert timing make the solo experience more fraught with frustration.

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Elemental spirits play a significant role in the game’s world. The fox is a magnet for these invisible beings and when he gets close to any, they appear, thus allowing Nuna to use them as platforms. These spirits add a gorgeous and unique design element to the levels and their usage is dependent on team-work.

Never Alone has beautiful 3D-rendered landscapes, but is played entirely on a 2D plane, so the game has a decidedly familiar classic feel. There are some twitchy elements here and there though. Some of the jumps are a bit too pixel-specific and glitches occasionally hamper the experience. At one point, for instance, the fox got stuck on a bit of ice and started to spasm uncontrollably. There were a few issues throughout like this, but none of the glitches proved game breaking.

Like most myths and fairy tales, Never Alone is short and elements of the story could be nit-picked for reality, but that’s ok. At less than two hours, the game is a beautiful and satisfying story-telling experience with clever level design and a variety of locations that keep each level feeling interesting.

To round out the native-developed aspects, the game unlocks short videos regularly that further explain the mythology behind the game, explaining the significance of its characters, world, and spiritual beliefs. It’s a nice touch and, if anything, we would have liked more in depth shorts on the Inupiat mythology.

Never Alone takes a familiar game style and adds a unique sense of distinction with its well-realized atmosphere and native story. It’s beautiful, fun, and visually creative, while still being entirely accessible. We’d love to see more games take this approach and expose gamers to stories from all over the world, instead of the same tired European-based tales we’ve seen countless time before.