By: Mike Chen
It’s rare to find a title like Never Alone. Based on the legends of the arctic’s native Inupiat people, Never Alone is equal parts co-op platformer and cultural snapshot. Unfortunately, it only succeeds on one of these fronts.
Never Alone is meant to be played as a co-op game. Both Nuna and the fox feature fairly simplistic platform controls that amount to jumping (which could be a little tighter), holding on and a basic attack. The fox gets the ability to do a little bit of parkour — think 8-bit Ninja Gaiden — but other than that it’s all very straightforward. In fact, outside of the fluid animation and graphics, Never Alone would be right at home on an 8-bit system.
Never Alone immediately stands out with its mixture of beautiful and stark graphics that recreate the frozen arctic landscapes. Many of the areas feel like living paintings despite it essentially being a mixture of snow and background. Other areas integrate different aspects such as caves and water, and while these fit in with the art style, they tend to feel more like traditional game levels.
Nuna and the white fox are animated with exquisite detail for extremely fluid motion. In particular, the fox’s tail is nuanced so that feels equally lifelike and otherworldly at the same time.
Go from point A to point B and overcome obstacles: if you were to drill down Never Alone to its essence, that’s what it would be. Of course, that’s the goal of many platformers, but there is a significant lack of rhythm or clever puzzle design in Never Alone.
Instead, its focus is on atmosphere and co-op teamwork (computer AI and in-game switching is available, though this can be cumbersome and the AI is spotty at best). Puzzles appear out of the environment and are often easily overcome or high-level frustrating, rarely hitting that sweet spot that is necessary in the genre’s best titles.
While much can be said about Never Alone‘s aesthetics, the truth is that its gameplay is basic to the core: climbing/switch sequences or straightforward attack/obstacle breaking.
In between major in-game events, cut scenes provide more background on the culture and myths of the game’s native people. This is probably where Never Alone shines brightest: it manages to illuminate a historical and educational side without ever feeling preachy or dragging. It’s a shame that this comes hand-in-hand with simplistic level design.
A strong aesthetic and engaging story are hampered by boring levels and basic gameplay. While co-op can work well, the single-player experience utilizes spotty AI, creating an occasionally frustrating experience. With a little more innovative design and quality control, Never Alone could stand apart; instead, it fails to be more than the sum of its parts.