Review – Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) : Culture Infused Gaming

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Developer Upper One Games is set to release its culturally infused and arctic based puzzle platform game upon the world. Is Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) ready for prime-time, or is it best left out in the cold?

Read our review to find out.

Never Alone follows the story of an Alaskan Iñupiat girl named Nuna and her arctic fox as they search for the source of a never ending blizzard that is threatening the livelihood and lives of her family and friends. Swapping between her and the fox, or by playing co-op with a friend on your couch, you’ll have to guide them through a series of levels based on the folklore of the people she represents and learn what each character can do in order to figure out puzzles in a very harsh environment.

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To understand the type of game Never Alone is, one must first realize the type of developer that created it. Developer Upper One Games is not your typical, run of the mill studio, as they are the first indigenous-owned video game developer and publisher in US history. The stories that lie within the game comes directly from the folklore of the Alaskan Iñupiat people, as handed down through the generations. The game was created not to make them rich, but to enrichen the lives of others all over the world through an interactive experience full of wisdom and Iñupiat values.

Gameplay is fairly simple with each character having their own basic skillset. Nuna is a little slower than her friendly fox but can push and pull objects to assist in reaching higher platforms. She is also given a bola which she can use to destroy objects that can open up more areas. The little fox can reach areas that are tighter and too small for Nuna. He can also interact with spirit objects such as birds, fish, etc., which assists Nuna in moving through areas she wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. Most of the puzzles didn’t require too much thought, but the game was still a fun experience, albeit a little short.

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The graphics for the game are incredibly smooth and polished. We encountered no stutters or frame drops, even when playing through remote play on the PS Vita. Speaking of which, this game would work well as a stand alone PS Vita title (hint hint to the developers). Level design was varied and most of the eight chapters felt fairly unique, even though they were all ice and snow, with some water levels thrown in.

As you progress through the game, you’ll come across snowy owls that will unlock videos called Cultural Insights which can be viewed immediately upon unlocking, or from the main menu. Most of these owls can’t be missed but a couple are hiding out and require a little searching. Listen for the sound of an owl hooting and you’ll know there’s one close by. We missed only one on our first playthrough but the game offers chapter select, and a count of how many videos found per chapter, so finding the missing owl should be a simple task.

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The insight videos are all National Geographic quality and give an in-depth look at the Iñupiat people’s history and life style. Interviews with actual Iñupiat members show not only the rich history, but the harshness of the world around them. Could you survive out in the open when the temperature is fifty below? Apparently you can if you have caribou clothing and boots made out of sealskin.

Never Alone is not your typical independent game. Never before has anyone tried to capture the essence of a rare culture in such a way that not only entertains you, but enlightens you and teaches you about that culture as well. The sights and sounds, and entertaining story telling of these indigenous people makes for a very entertaining experience.

With the low price of only $14.99, the game is well worth the price, and the proceeds go to the Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s education mission.