There are experiences for which the standard of judging games feels inadequate. Never Alone is most certainly one of those games. The gameplay is overwhelmingly simple, with an absolute lack of real challenge, and the game is quite short for the price. Yet, it is an absolutely remarkable experience, one that feels wholly unique, and one that deserves to be played by any who enjoy beautiful games.
Never Alone tells the tale of a young girl from a small village, and how unceasing blizzards begin to hurt the people’s chances of survival. She soon sets out to find the source of this blizzard, gets into major trouble, and is saved by a mysterious white wolf. From then on, they stick together, helping each other through the game’s unfolding perils.
The gameplay is extremely simple. You control both the girl and the wolf. When controlling one, the other will automatically follow, and you can switch between characters by pressing Y. Each has specific abilities which can be used to help the other through an environment; so, say the wolf can climb walls and wall jump, while the girl can climb ladders and throw a weapon. They can then find a way for new paths to be opened up for the other character to follow. Co-op is also an option, and it’s a great one to have – I definitely suggest it if possible, as your heroes can be killed even when you aren’t controlling them, which can occasionally lead to frustrating moments.
Level design is simple and straightforward, but still very well done. Puzzles aren’t hard, per se, but they can be satisfying at times, and they are rarely uninteresting. There are some perilous situations, with dangerous pits, fierce snowstorms, and even fearsome spirits, but you’re always placed almost directly back where you died without much to do over, so it’s anything but a punishing experience. Even during chase sequences, wherein you run away from an enemy who won’t stop running after you (these are easily the best parts of the game), checkpoints are doled out generously. The lack of real challenge fits, though, because this isn’t really a game focused on gameplay. The gameplay is effortless, breezy, and more or less perfect for what it’s trying to get across: a beautiful, emotional experience. And, for the most part, it is just that.
I’ll be the first to admit that the story is incredibly basic; there is not much dialogue, let alone overly complex characters and narrative twists. But going on a journey through the frozen north with a girl and a wolf is impactful tale nonetheless, and in no small part is that due to the presentation. Atmosphere is a huge part of this game; a lone narrator, speaking in a foreign tongue (with subtitles to go along) tells the solemn tale, with a mystical, silent setting setting the stage for a wonderously imaginative journey.
The visuals backing this up is what makes the game really come together. Various arctic environments are brought to life in vivid and imaginative ways, from the northern lights over an abandoned village to an icy forest. The music is very minimal, and is primarily focused on creating ambiance. You won’t notice the music at all, even when it’s there. That is fine, though – the sound design also does a phenomenal job creating an atmosphere.
Never Alone is based off of traditional stories told by the Iñupiat (an Alaska Native people), and as a bonus you can unlock a variety of videos that show off their culture. These are fairly interesting, and a really cool idea for bonuses, though I did feel like they were advertised a bit too much during the story, at times taking me out of the experience slightly. But it’s worth it, because this paints Never Alone as something altogether its own. Using gaming as a medium to tell beautiful, classic stories that most would never even have heard and introduce people to a culture they likely know little about is something I find absolutely awesome.
But it’s not all good. First of all, this is a short game. It took me little over three hours to play it to completion. For fifteen dollars, a lot of people may be turned off by this – it really comes down to how much content you want out of how much you spend. Second, there are some technical glitches, especially later in the game. Nothing too extensive: mainly jumps that turn into the character glitching out and dying if you don’t do them exactly right. But they are present, and are occasionally annoying.
So, should you buy Never Alone? It depends. I can’t recommend it to everyone: the game is short, and it doesn’t really include much challenge in either puzzles nor platforming. But if you can look past that, you’ll find a stunning, unique game that uses the medium to deliver a beautiful story and an incredible world – and that’s worth experiencing.