Game Backlog Update #9
Another update, another game removed from my teetering pile of unplayed games.
It would be remiss of me to talk about Never Alone without first steering you towards Eurogamer’s excellent review of it. Daniel Starkey’s write-up is easily one of the best reviews I’ve ever read.
I wish there were more games like Never Alone.
Not that it’s a masterpiece or anything. In fact, from a mechanical standpoint, it’s a bog standard puzzle platformer. You’ll jump, slide and climb your way from left to right like any other genre entrant, but what makes it really stand out is that it feels culturally significant. I came out of this experience with a deep respect for an Alaskan community that I had never even heard of before going in.
When a relentless blizzard threatens to destroy her village, a cherubic Iñupiaq girl, Nuna, and an arctic fox set out to find the cause of the storm. It’s a simple setup but it pulls you in right away. I was immediately invested in Nuna, the fox and their plight. I intentionally avoided calling the fox a pet because he’s anything but. He’s more of a loving sibling than anything else.
You control both the fox and Nuna throughout, flitting between each as the situation requires it. Their bond is incredibly strong and should one die, the other’s cries are genuinely heart-wrenching. It’s a partnership that symbolises the Iñupiaq’s unique connection to all living creatures.
Should you take the time to explore and unlock them, each level is punctuated with mini-documentaries about the Iñupiaq people. They offer curious insights into a community that is sadly dying thanks to global warming. Rather than lament their fate, I found these cultural vignettes to be quite hopeful. Hopeful that the traditions of such a harmonious people could be kept alive in other communities.
Never Alone is more than just a game, it’s interactive folklore. It’s a learning experience that teaches us the value of our elders’ knowledge and how it’s important to share that knowledge with younger generations. But above all else, it’s a fascinating insight into the Iñupiaq way of life.
The Iñupiaq community’s willingness to embrace deep-rooted traditions, even in the face of endangerment, is remarkable. It’s harrowing to think that such a culturally rich community may cease to exist in the not-so-distant future.
Now there are things that I could criticise. There’s a sudden difficulty spike at a certain point in the game, your companion’s AI is occasionally stupid and there’s an emotional gut-punch that comes way too soon, but these are just minor gripes in what is an otherwise unmissable experience. Dwelling on the negatives of Never Alone feels rather unfair as it could deter people from experiencing what I believe to be a hugely important game.
Honestly, if you get the chance to play Never Alone please do so. If gameplay is all you care about then you will be left wanting more, but it serves as a timely reminder of the perils of climate change. Not only that, it’s also a fine example of how to use video games to preserve a culture. It only takes a couple of hours to complete and even if you don’t particularly enjoy it, you’ll appreciate the experience.
I’ve never played a game quite like Never Alone. On the surface it’s a simple platformer, but if you scratch that surface you’ll find surprising complexity. It made me feel happy and sad, hopeless and hopeful, but in such a barren environment, not once did I ever feel alone.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist…
Oh right. Never mind then.