Never Alone (Wii U) Review

By Albert Lichi 11.07.2015

Review for Never Alone on Wii U

The development of Never Alone, aka Kisima Ingitchuna, is a very unique case, since it was headed by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, who worked with the developer Upper One to make a game that could be about native Alaskan culture and history. This puts Never Alone in an interesting position, as it is a game that aims to illustrate some of the folklore, as well as tell an emotional story using simple and easy to understand gameplay mechanics found in modern 2D platformers. Combined with the talents of Upper One, can this Tribal Council deliver a quality game that is fun, emotional and educational? Find out in the Cubed3 review of Never Alone.

The story of Never Alone begins when Nuna's horrible parents let her go out into a nightmarish and violent snow storm in the frozen Alaskan wilderness. The journey is to find the "source" of this monstrous blizzard, and is also mixed in with other old native folklore tales and ideas. Nunu, with the help of a magical snow fox, meets all kinds of threats and strange characters, solves minor puzzles, and sees a documentary cut up as they find snow owls. Yeah, Never Alone has a cut up documentary as collectibles. While the sentiment of watching a Discovery Channel type programme about Alaskan natives is fine, it does not belong in a 2D platformer video game. The idea was to make Never Alone a form of edutainment, but the results are milk mixing with oil.

A good example of a game that flawlessly taught players about culture and folklore while never haphazardly interrupting the game with a documentary was the Hideki Kamiya masterpiece, Okami. Okami was very subtle in how it informed users with old tales and legends that the game was inspired by, and even found ways to incorporate some of them into the gameplay. Never Alone's Council probably spent some money on the documentary and just didn't want it to go to waste.

The visuals are quite beautiful when they are animating smoothly. The style of this game has a very storybook type quality to it, right down to its whimsical depiction of the wild life of the Alaskan tundra and the cute expressions and gestures that the main hero, Nuna, performs. Never Alone is the kind of game people will want to like because it is just so appealing in concept and style, yet it totally botches the execution horrifically. One of the most obvious inspirations for Never Alone is probably the atmospheric horror platformer Limbo. Both titles take a minimalist approach to game design, which rarely ever leaves much room for interesting or fun gameplay, unless if the game is the 1998 cult classic Heart of Darkness. Both games even copy a giant animal pursuer as a threat that reoccurs throughout the games' short run time.

So much of Never Alone is comprised of missed opportunities because of its slavishness to copying Limbo, when, really, it would have been more logical if it copied Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for its creative ideas for ice levels. A lot of Never Alone is running a barren flat level with a few sparse moments of platforming, and once in a while switching to the magical snow fox to make platforms appear. As far as platformers go, there really is not much to it, and it is a very easy game when the AI controlled partner does not commit suicide.

Screenshot for Never Alone on Wii U

Never Alone makes for fine stills, since it has a somewhat rocky performance. Other than an unstable frame rate, the game's characters are sluggish and pretty unresponsive - particularly for whoever has to control the fox, which sometimes has a problem turning around. Things get very spotty as the game continues and introduces a projectile weapon. The control method for throwing this thing is needlessly complex for such a simple game, and leads to many missed shots due to how inaccurate the input method is, which requires the right stick to be pulled back in one direction and then quickly snapped to the direction it is meant to be thrown. Playing as the fox is no better, since the way it manipulates the materialising platforms is seemingly random and beyond any real control. The fox is only good for doing some odd wall-jumping and dropping a rope for Nuna to climb.

Content-wise, there is not a whole lot about Never Alone that makes it worth it unless a trip to a museum of native Alaksan folk history is a compelling reason. It costs $14.99, which is quite steep for a game that had its development overseen by a non-profit organisation. The best quality of Never Alone, other than its presentation and wonderful art, is the co-op, which is probably the best way to play the game, since the AI has a tendency for self-destruction.

Not counting the documentary, Never Alone can take a little over three hours to complete, and most of that time is padded out from the slow animations and long stretches of nothing that Nuna and the fox will trudge through. This is not a recommended game for its asking price, but anyone who liked Limbo may find themselves enjoying it. Perhaps Never Alone would have made for a great CGI animated film instead of a video game.

Screenshot for Never Alone on Wii U

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Never Alone is close to being an OK game. It has a lot going for it with its gorgeous aesthetics and authentic presentation. It even has a couch co-op mode, and the few times the game does have things to do in it, there is some legitimate involvement. Too bad these moments are too far apart, and the more vulgar qualities of Never Alone are the most apparent, such as the buggy AI, barren level design and lacking gameplay. For $14.99, it feels like buying the documentary and the game itself is a bonus feature on a DVD/Blu-ray; it's a shame the documentary is cut up into segments that has to be unlocked.

Developer

Upper One Games

Publisher

Upper One Games

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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