Never Alone, also known as Kisima Inŋitchuŋa, is a video puzzle adventure game developed by Upper One Games and published by E-Line Media based on the traditional Inupiat tale Kunuuksaayuka, first documented by main storyteller Robert Nasruk Cleveland in his collection “Stories of people of black speech”. The player alternately controls an Inupiat girl named Nuna and her companion, a polar fox. The game is a platformer where a girl and a fox travel across the vast north, and also offers puzzles that must be solved to defend against enemies and overcome all sorts of obstacles. In total, the game features 8 chapters. Never Alone was created through a collaboration between E-Line Media and Cook’s Bay Tribal Council. This is one of the few games that Native Americans have contributed to.
Also, there is an add-on with the prefix Foxtales, which was announced on July 16, 2015 and which takes place in the beginning of spring, which can be considered a sequel.
Newer Alone provides control of two playable characters – an Iñupiat girl named Nuna and her Arctic fox. Like an atmospheric puzzle game, Never Alone lets you switch control between Nuna and Arctic fox. Each character has its own strengths and weaknesses. Arctic fox is fast and can climb high and wade through small holes. Nuna can move heavy objects, as well as get rid of obstacles with the help of a bolas. Each chapter offers different game mechanics. For example, in some levels, the heroes are faced with a strong blizzard and the direction of the wind also affects the direction of the heroes’ jump, in another level you have to run over ice floes from a polar bear, there is also a level where you can swim under water or climb among dilapidated ruins. In the middle of the story, the Arctic fox dies and is reborn as a spirit in the form of a boy. In this form, the arctic fox can freely move in space and guide benevolent spirits to help Nune overcome obstacles.
The plot in the game and the structure of its narration are created in the image of the story and the transmission of wise advice from generation to generation. Throughout the game, the player is accompanied by oral narration in the Iñupiat language. Unlike traditional platform games, where you need to defeat enemies and overcome obstacles and defeat enemies, Never Alone rewards the player with access to video inserts dedicated to the culture, mythology and everyday life of the Inuit peoples.
The plot revolves around the girl Nuna, whose native tribe is threatened with extinction due to the attack of a hostile spirit, nicknamed “the evil man”, as well as an incessant blizzard. It all starts with the fact that Nuna unauthorizedly leaves the village in order to find out the reason for such a long bad weather, as a result of which, as a result, she almost becomes the prey of a polar bear, but the arctic fox saves her. As a result, a friendship flourishes between her and the polar fox, which leads them to continue their journey together to face the dangers of the blizzard. On the way, they meet spirits that can be controlled by the Arctic fox. Returning to her village, Nuna must discover that it has been destroyed by fire, and all the inhabitants have disappeared. Passing through the burned down village, she meets the “owl man” who gives Nune a magical bolas capable of awakening spirits.
In the further journey, Nuna and the Arctic fox stumble upon a small people, are pursued by a polar bear, are swallowed by a whale, cross the strait, which will later be called Bering, and repeatedly encounter an evil person who wants to get a ball given to the girl. Nuna learns that this terrible man who is relentlessly pursuing her is guilty of destroying her village and expelling its inhabitants. As the journey progresses, the blizzard becomes stronger, the evil man kills the Arctic fox, but he is resurrected as a spirit in the form of a boy in the skin of this animal. In the end, both defeat the evil man, forcing him to fall through the ice. In the end, they find the source of the blizzard, which is an ice giant named Kunuuksaayuka, who breaks pieces off the ice mountain with his ax, which is the source of the winds. Nuna takes the ax from the giant, but he wants to get his ax back, as a result of which he begins to follow her. Nuna runs all the way to Alaska.
Returning to his village, the giant catches up with her and demands his tool from her. Nuna hits the ax on a stone and thereby blunts him so that he can no longer cause snowstorms by chipping pieces from the mountains. She then throws it into Kunnuksaayuk’s arms and he leaves. From this point on, the blizzards stop. Nun’s family also returns to the village, and the girl says goodbye to the spirit of the Arctic fox, who says that they will meet again
Several months pass and a hard winter gives way to spring. It is likely that in the interval between Kisima Inŋitchuŋa and the part described, Nuna found the very Arctic fox, which for some reason returned to its former appearance, on the territory of modern Kotzebue. They spend the rest of the time until spring together. When it starts to get warm, they find a mouse and start running after it. The chase ends when the friends reach the boat, because of which the mouse gets into the water and is carried away by the current, and the girl and the Arctic fox decide to swim further. They find a mouse on an iceberg and move on, causing them to swim underwater. But they get out and follow the same current into the Noatak River. They discover a village, part of which has sunk into the water, and then they find a gigantic mouse, because of which the village was abandoned.
Nuna and the Arctic fox find themselves under water again, but they get out and miraculously escape from a huge mouse, which is littered with stones and goes to the bottom. A girl with a polar fox swim to the boat and go home. Along the way, they also find the mouse they were chasing at the start of the game and happily help it get into their boat.
The game was developed by the independent studio Upper One Games in collaboration with Ishmael Hope, who documented the oral stories and tales of the Inupiat and Tlingit and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, a non-profit organization working with indigenous peoples living in urban areas of Alaska. The idea to create a game originally came from the Council, as part of an educational campaign to increase knowledge about the indigenous peoples of the Far North. Their main audience was to be young people, so the Council came up with the idea of creating an entertainment product, namely a video game, so it partnered with E-Line Media, an educational game development studio, with the idea of creating a game that tells about knowledge and the mythology of the Eskimo peoples. Never Alone is also considered to be the first game to feature more Native American contributions. The team wanted to develop a game around the idea of “what it means to be human” and create a storyline based on a story passed down from generation to generation. Never Alone also aims to share stories of local culture in the form of entertainment content and spark interest in exploring Alaskan indigenous folklore. It was decided to transfer the proceeds from the game to financing educational projects of the Cook-Inlet Council.
The head of the E-Line development team Shin Veske expressed his admiration that he could literally “merge” into the indigenous community to learn more about their life, culture and then reflect their values and mythology in the game. During this time, Veske and his team made about a dozen trips to Alaska to meet with community members and collect material for the game’s plot. The developer also noticed that Never Alone touched on topics that had never been seen in video games before. Veske previously held leadership positions at Crystal Dynamics and Activision, but decided to create his own and independent team of 12 in Seattle, who worked closely with the “40 Alaska Elders, Storytellers and Community Members.” Never Alone was created using the Unity game engine. The game also has a built-in local co-op mode.
Never Alone has received numerous awards, including the British Academy Award for Best Debut Game and the Game of the Year & Most Significant Influence award from Games for Change. In 2015, Never Alone was also nominated for Outstanding Achievement by the DICE Academy and for Best Debut by the Game Developers Choice Awards. In 2014, Never Alone was shortlisted for the Indiecade International Festival.
The game received mixed ratings from game critics, the average rating on the Metacritic aggregator ranges from 66 points to 73 out of 100, depending on the platform.
Never Alone has been praised by critics for its art style, which combines simple cartoon style with Scrimshow influences. Reviewers also praised the documentary video inserts, noting that the game does a great job of enhancing knowledge of Alaska Native culture in the form of entertainment content. The EuroGamer critic noted that for him, as a representative of the native people of America, the release of Never Alone is extremely important, as the game challenges the established belief that the traditions of the Indians are doomed to oblivion after several generations. A spokesperson for Polygon noted that Never Alone might seem like a digital version of a textbook, but in fact offers a compelling story and engaging cultural exploration with an abundance of varied game mechanics. At the same time, the critic compared the artistic aesthetics of Never Alone with Limbo and Braid.
The gameplay itself received an ambiguous assessment. Some reviewers called Never Alone a failure in this regard, pointing out the awkward controls and inconsistent behavior of the game characters. In particular, a Polygon representative pointed to a completely terrible AI and noted that he did not know “how many times he made a series of jumps, only to watch in horror as a computer-controlled friend jumped to meet his death.” The critic also noted that the co-op mode makes the game much easier to complete. The Eurogamer critic noted that in the beginning, the game gives the player a sense of serenity and peace, including through unobtrusive music and attention to the details of the surrounding world. However, over time, this aura is replaced by a feeling of omnipresent danger and anxiety. After about 90 minutes of the game, a clear increase in the level of difficulty is noticed, if at first Never Alone is limited to jumping, then later the player will have to quickly switch between characters at the right moment and with insufficient intuitive control, achieving some tasks becomes unbearably difficult.
However, some critics were pleased with the gameplay, praising it for its great variety.