So I recently played a small indie title called Never Alone. I don’t normally pick up indie video games unless I’ve heard they’re good (think Celeste), but Never Alone was provided to me freely.
Side note: Well, actually not really. I pay for my Xbox Live Gold subscription, which offers me two free games a month, so technically I am paying for those games. Just not a lot.
Never Alone caught my eye because it looked like a very artistic platformer, something like Ori and the Blind Forest. The game is set in the frozen north of the Alaskan wilds and follows the story of an Inupiaq girl (The “n” in “Inupiaq” is supposed to have an ~ on top of it. Don’t know how to add one on WordPress. Help?) trying to stop a blizzard from demolishing her village. She is accompanied by a little fox spirit on her journey.
The concept of the game is fantastic. The story does a good job of covering some aspects of the Inupiaq culture. Short, informative videos describing the Inupiaq people and their myths are interspersed throughout the game. It’s a nice touch because these tales aren’t normally the kind of stories you see in mainstream media. There are so many untold stories from around the world, it was delightful seeing a story that may have gone unrecognized brought into the light with a video game.
That said, it would have been even more delightful if the gameplay was not irritating and wonky.
Never Alone is a platformer, and platformers require precision. There is nothing precise about Never Alone’s controls. The little girl moves further than you want or expect her to when you nudge your control stick just a tad. Jumping is a strangely lethargic mechanic. Throw in environmental hazards like strong winds and water levels, and your movement controls are now a recipe for disaster.
But the worst part of Never Alone is the fact that you can play as the two characters, the girl or the fox spirit. You switch between the two with the press of a button. Having two playable characters is not a bad thing on its own. The problem is that the AI that takes over for the other character is rudimentary at best, unhelpful at worst.
I suppose a bad companion AI is not the worst on its own. But when that companion is meant to assist you with platforming and you can’t progress without it, that’s where we have a major problem.
The fox spirit can activate certain platforms by being near them. He can also grab onto these ghostly surfaces and bring them closer to the girl, who can only climb onto them when he’s nearby. The fox spirit needs to be right next to these platforms in order for them to be tangible to the girl.
But for some stupidstupidstupid reason, the AI for whichever character you’re not using has a tendency to gravitate toward your own character. It’s a basic I’m-following-your-lead line of programming, but it works against you when you want them to hover near a platform that you must eventually reach.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been controlling the girl character after positioning the fox spirit perfectly, only for him to move away from the area and send my girl plummeting to her death once his ghost-platform disappears.
Side note: I don’t like it in video games when landing in some water kills me, and yet, in another level, my character is swimming like there’s no tomorrow.
The controls for Never Alone were infuriating. Despite the pull from the mythology behind the game, the gameplay pushed me away from enjoying it. I would not recommend this game to anybody I like. The controls are that bad. Besides, even if the controls were smoother, the level design is a pretty vanilla experience.
Though I guess it was pretty nifty to play as a fox spirit.
I rate Never Alone an if-you-value-your-sanity-in-any-way-do-not-pick-up-this-game-even-if-you’re-only-curious-seriously-I-almost-threw-my-controller-in-a-rage-while-playing-and-I-still-have-no-idea-how-I-completed-the-game.