Saturday, October 1, 2016

Never Alone Game Review

Finding the Spirits
(10/01/2016) --- This game is beautiful; just beautiful and as well something different from many others, mostly because of the hybrid gameplay which mix a puzzle based platform and information with videos about the Alaskan Indigenous folklore.

The game is set on a remote northern region, in which the players is placed on a harsh enviroment in which is granted control of a Iñupiaq girl named Nuna and an arctic fox, with both of them advancing through a series of puzzles in order to calm the perpetual storm that is hitting the region.

Within the game itself, the player discovers the cultural development of the Cook Inlet tribes (WayBack Machine, 2007); the story is set within the idea of inter-generation transfer of wisdom or in other words "oral tradition" as it was common before any form of pictographic writing was developing by the aboriginal tribes (NNLM, 1999) The game deepens into exploring myths such as the Blizzard  Man, the Little People, Manslayer, Polar Bears, The Rolling Heads and the Sky People, while dividing the game into eight chapters.

Into the snow.
The control setup on the game can be problematic at certain moments and as well unresponsive; the puzzles aren't that complicated, but having the reaction time and alter between the fox and the Nuna can cause several returns to the last check point.

Mostly the problem with the controls is when the fox has to jump on different platforms or trying to reach a higher ledge; albeit the other aspect is the lack of customization of the controls to make them easy to the keyboard-mouse interface, that is heavily used on the game.

Before being Swallowed by the Ice-Whale
The graphics and layouts are gorgeous, they mix between scrimshaw, polygonal rendering and a faux 3D that give the enviroment a beautiful rendering about a land that has difficult living conditions due the harsh weather.

Probably what it takes the price are the cut-scenes, they are just beautiful and minimalist, as if the stories carved in the bones gain life and start moving, giving the player the perspective that Nuna is part of the folklore rather than being an actual human as there are the hints that she can't die but rather is a journey that must fulfill until is reached.

The project is the debut game of Upper One Games; the first indigenous owned game company in the U.S.A. that is based in Seattle, Washington (Upper One Games Homepage) that was launched by the Native Alaskan Cook Inlet Tribal Council (Wikipedia). A fascinating aspect of this game and one that can separate it from others, the game is narrated in the Iñupital language with subtitles by an Iñupiat Elder; which follows the thematic of oral tradition to the storytelling.

The Owlman
A central part of the storytelling involves finding the owls that are scattered across the different levels, each owl will open a snippet of a video in which will let the player know more about the Iñupiat culture. The paradox with the owls is that it can isolate the players from the focus of the game that is to educate people about the Iñupiats, due the reason each owl offers a unique insight that is crucial the story.

There are no hints into finding them, even some of them can be difficult to reach to due the lack of response within the controllers as well the locations. It is amazing, that the unorthodox move by mixing video interviews as well historical snippets could give such a deep meaning to a game because there is a proper explanation of the symbolism that surround the lore such as the drums but also the sense of community, and even how life developed in the tundra.

Never Alone is actually worth of playing, a different experience in the gaming world as it offers a unique gameplay. It tells a story and it expose the player to the Alaskan Aboriginal Cultures with a very unique perspective. 


Reference:

  1. Web retrieved: Way Back Machine, June 11 2007 - https://web.archive.org/web/20070611043401/http://www.crrel.usace.army.mil/sid/hopkins_files/Seaice/Cook_inlet.htm
  2. Web retrieved: nnlm.gov, 1999. Inupiat - Alaska Native Cultural Profile - https://nnlm.gov/archive/20061109155450/inupiaq.html
  3. Web retrieved: Upper One Games - http://www.upperonegames.citci.org/
  4. Web retrieved: Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Native_Tribal_Health_Consortium

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