Never Alone: discovering a hidden world – review
Never Alone is one of those games that are striking at first sight. The title developed by Upper One Games immediately stood out for the particularity of its graphic style and setting, as well as for the unique background that inspired it, that of the Iñupiat folklore.
The inspirations of Never Alone are not an easy slogan or a means to gain sympathy: the developers have collaborated closely with various exponents of the Iñupiat community in order to tell it, so much so that the game also acts as a mini-documentary on the history, traditions and methods of survival of this community that inhabits the icy expanses of Alaska near the Bering Sea.
To give life to one of the stories of this ethnic group, the typical mechanics of the platform were chosen. The protagonist of Kunuuksaayuka, a story created by Robert Cleveland, is in this version a girl of none Nuna who decides to discover the causes of a snowstorm that seems to never end.
The monotony of the scenery is effectively interrupted by small excursions to abandoned caves and villages, or even by underwater sections like this one.
Despite her young age, and unlike what one might think, Nuna is not defenseless in the face of the inclemency of the climate, and is indeed perfectly capable of hunting and getting away from her village. On her return, however, she finds the latter destroyed and begins her voyage of discovery in the company of an Arctic fox who saved her life.
Never Alone relies on simple and well-tested mechanics of the platform’s canons. Nuna can jump, cling to ledges, swing and even crouch to avoid being blown away by particularly strong gusts of wind.
At a certain point in the game, the child acquires bolas useful for interacting with the environment, for example by destroying ice that blocks a passage or a stream, but also to attract spirits by hitting luminous spheres.
The spirits have a fundamental role in the game, as they have in the Iñupiat community, which is told by short videos that can also be observed in-game immediately after being unlocked. The mysterious arctic fox that accompanies Nuna can climb some ledges, lower ropes and generally collaborate with the child to allow the duo to advance from platform to platform.
The only fairly challenging sections are those in which you have to escape from impending danger by interacting with spirits and scenery.
The most particular and important ability of the animal, however, is that of influencing the spirits that pervade the scenarios, giving them shape and substance when it is close to it, and also making them move. In these cases, no one can use the brightest parts of the spirits as handholds, and it is often necessary to constantly switch from the control of the child to that of the fox to carry out more complex actions involving the two, the scenario and the aforementioned spirits.
The presence of two characters to control ideally promotes the game in co-op (function available only locally), with a minimum of practice there are no difficulties even during chases in which it is necessary to make the duo collaborate very quickly: yes, Never Alone it is by its nature quite easy.
Even playing with mouse and keyboard, most of the game is perfectly clear with one hand: the mouse becomes necessary only when you have to throw the bolas, holding down the left button while aiming and releasing it to throw the weapon.
The adventure unfolds without any rush, with some sections of chase to enliven what is otherwise a very calm story in the times and entrusted to the voice of an indigenous narrator who tells it in the native language in which it was created, with subtitles available in a variety of languages including Italian.
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The artistic qualities, which are the first business card with which the game presents itself to the eyes, are undeniable. The scenarios are not relegated to be the background to Nuna and the fox, but are practically a third protagonist that looms with peaceful majesty, even with few visible stretches between blizzards and monotonous horizons.
While scenarios are inevitably monothematic, there is some variety that keeps the look of Never Alone between an abandoned village and a dip in the icy waters, at least enough for an entire playthrough, which lasts about 3 hours. Furthermore, the checkpoint system is very forgiving, and the road to retrace in case of a wrong jump is always very little.
Brevity and simplicity are two sins that are not exactly venial, but Never Alone it was clearly created to be the vehicle of a certain type of message, and it is precisely this that probably ended up leaving the potential of its playful part unexpressed.
The basic mechanics could certainly have been exploited for more intricate passages, but overall the game flows very well thanks to the documentary interludes that give shape to what otherwise would risk being just a poetic story of the friendship between a lost child. and a fox.
Despite some nice gimmicks regarding spirits, Never Alone never makes the leap in quality as a platformer.
The limit of Never Alonemore than anything else, it lies in its dual nature. the title of Upper One Games is a fascinating combination, a bit game and a bit documentary, but nothing that blends the two things in a different and unique way, and in this sense the potential of the video game as a means of expression is probably go a bit wasted or maybe, who knows, underestimate.
Never Alone it is still a decent, albeit brief, entertainment. Living it only as a platform with a lovable appearance and tones does not make much sense, while if you are interested in the opportunity to discover an unexpectedly rich and alive world, which unfortunately is disappearing, it could give you more than some satisfaction in the span of a couple. in the afternoons.