LifeisXbox’s Never Alone: Arctic Collection review | As a kid in pre and elementary school, you learn about all sorts of things in a very shallow manner. Cowboys & Indians lived in the wild west, Eskimos live in the polar regions and mummies are found in the desert. As we grow up, however, we get the chance to learn more about these people, cultures and civilizations as we grow older. It just so happens that cultures are one of my favourite things to learn from and explore. Luckily for both you and me, dear reader, is that the fine folks over at Upper One Games released Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) which lets us get lost in Iñupiat culture like a man in a blizzard. Together with the help of E-Line Media who helped publish Never Alone and today’s Never Alone: Arctic Collection back in November of 2014 we can follow the tale of Kunuuksaayuka and the Foxtales DLC in one neat bundle. Well then, let’s see what adventures Nuna and her fox friend have in store for us.
Most Memorable Moment
Not really a singular moment per sé, but all of the narrated videos and sections really stayed with me. These stories were passed on from generation to generation orally, meaning that to hear them immortalised in a videogame must be a huge relief to the elders who had them passed on to them. Besides the cutscenes that look like drawing of a scrimshaw, I also mean the in-game cutscenes. They were a chance to see the characters from a bit closer.
ℹ️ Reviewed on Nintendo Switch | Review code provided by PR/publisher, this review is the personal opinion from the writer.
What we Liked!
- Gameplay | Never Alone is a traditional co-op puzzle-platformer where you control Nuna, an Iñupiaq girl and an arctic fox which go on adventures together. You can choose to play solo and control them one at a time, assisted by AI, or get comfy with a friend via local cooperative play. At first glance, this may look like a main character and sidekick situation, but nothing could be further from the truth. Both Nuna and the fox have key roles to play in this story. As such, you will need Nuna to paddle the umiaq (sealskin canoe); use her Bola (a hunting tool used to ensnare) and push heavy objects, while the fox can traverse small openings; lower ropes or climb walls via it’s claws and act as a conduit for getting aid from the spirits. It is also very cute.
- Graphics | Upper One Games are using a slightly cartoony style with a realistic vibe to it. It’s not overly detailed, but it doesn’t have to be when you’re looking at the bigger picture, often zoomed out to allow for puzzle solving. One thing they really succeeded in is depicting the frigid landscapes of Alaska. The way the weather is displayed and impacts your vision was done extremely well and made me feel like I’m actually there in that snowstorm, squinting to be able to see. Furthermore, I’d like to highlight the way the spirits are portrayed as well. They stand out due to the fact that they appear as 2D sprites and are drawn in the Iñupiat style. The northern light spirits are my favourites in this regard.
- Audio | Howling tundra winds and the pressing of snow beneath your boots, Never Alone takes a more immersive, less traditional approach to its sound design.Tracks, while present, would often fade to the background, letting nature and the elements take centre stage. But don’t be mistaken, when the situation is tense, you’ll feel it. It might have been in the short nature of the game, but Never Alone’s soundtrack and effects never got old. From the warm breath of a polar bear barking in your face to the little people who scurry about and even the cracking of branches moved by tree spirits. A joy to listen to.
- Story | Never Alone: Arctic Collection is a collection because you get two of the Iñupiat stories in one neat package. Being ever curious about other cultures, I found these serve as a good slice of Iñupiat culture and its values. So what stories will you get to experience with Never Alone’s Arctic Collection? With Kisima Ingitchuna you’ll experience the story of Kunuuksaayuka. Here a girl sets out to find the source of a never-ending blizzard that threatens the survival of their village. This story is steeped in the spiritual and is apparently well known in multiple Iñupiaq communities. The Foxtales expansion tackles a smaller, more local story. This is about two friends who try to save a friend from unexpected danger, despite the elders’ warnings. Both are narrated entirely by master storyteller Robert Nasruk Cleveland in his native tongue.
- Cultural insights | By playing through the levels and furthering the stories Nuna and her lupine companion go on you naturally unlock relevant cultural insights to the situation they find themselves in. These come in the form of short, often 2 minute or less long video clips where Iñupiat people are interviewed. These show their way of life and thinking. Their respect for nature, what it offers them and how they play their part in being a part of it. I would call this by far their strongest asset, as these insights have managed to make me care about a culture I otherwise wouldn’t have known about or lumped in with Innuit in general. If only it weren’t so damn cold where they live, otherwise I’d love to go and immerse myself in their culture one day.
- Owls | Dispersed throughout the arctic Alaskan landscape and more importantly, along the path Nuna and her foxy friend travel, are various owls. Often along the road, you travel or behind some additional puzzling, you can easily reach them. These owls, wise creatures that they are, will impart with you the wisdom of the Iñupiat people via the cultural insight interviews. This in itself is a cool way to reward players from approaching the many puzzles in alternative ways, except I’ve missed a couple. I even played through the levels I’m missing owls in again, but can’t seem to find them. Even if I can sometimes hear them. All in all, this is probably a matter of retrying it at a later date, but it does mean that I’m missing out on some of the cultural insights I find so fascinating.
What we Disliked
- Controls | The one thing that is holding Never Alone: Arctic Collection back from reaching true greatness are sadly its controls. Unfortunately, these all feel slow and somewhat unresponsive. I know Nuna and the good hunter from Foxtales aren’t exactly superhuman athletes, but they still felt very slow & heavy. The foxes were fine overall, yet had a couple of annoying bugs when it came to water levels. Most frequent of which was when they would flip between swimming up and down at very high speeds. This was visually funny at first, but when you try to swim anywhere with them before getting out of the water first was quite the ordeal as it was countersteering constantly. Using the Bola or paddle also have irksome controls where you have to start aiming or paddling by tilting your joystick in the opposite direction before you flick it to the other side. You would think that the position of release would be where the projectile goes, but that isn’t the case here. You need to more or less mentally invert your aiming which doesn’t feel intuitive at all.
It might also not have been the brightest idea to have a white outline indicate what character you switched to in a land that is frequented by blizzards.
How long to beat the story | 4 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | There are no achievements on Nintendo Switch
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Hey there. Thomas is the name, Sci-fi, action and (J)RPG’s are the game. I strongly prefer co-op over PVP games. Whenever possible, you may find me run wild at a convention in western Europe. Certified anime enjoyer.