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Review: Never Alone

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In 2014, Upper One Games and E-Line Media released Never Alone, a platformer based on the Iñupiat tale, “Kunuuksaayuka.” It is now playable on the PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PC, as well as iOS and Android devices. I downloaded the game on the PlayStation 4, so that is the version that I will review.

In Never Alone, an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna leaves her village to find out why her people have been suffering from terrible blizzards every day. An arctic fox comes to her aid, giving players the option to either switch between the two characters in Single Play or work together with a friend in Co-Op.

During their journey, they face a hungry polar bear, gusts of freezing wind, spirits from the Northern Lights that try to capture them, and a terrible man who’s been destroying villages to find a bola…the same weapon that Nuna’s been using to clear obstacles. Uh-oh.

Never Alone is an important game because it was made in tandem with the Iñupiat people. As you progress through each level, you unlock short videos called “Cultural Insights,” and you can pause the game at any time to view them. They were made to teach players about the Iñupiat people’s culture and way of life. These mini-documentaries allow one to gain a better understanding of the characters and themes found in the game. It’s a fun way to learn more about an underrepresented group of people through their own voices. I hope they have the opportunity to make more games like Never Alone.

In the game itself, Nuna and Fox each have unique skills that make them essential to the adventure. You can’t simply use one and ignore the other. Fox can climb walls and call spirits to help Nuna. She uses her bola to break apart icicles and burning sticks that block their path. I did not try out the multiplayer mode with a friend, but I imagine this allows for fun cooperative play.

As it is, I found single player mode manageable, though it could become frustrating at times. When using friendly spirit helpers to bring Nuna safely from one point to the other, Fox needs to stay close or the spirit will fade away. This wasn’t a reoccurring issue throughout the game, yet there were a few instances where Fox drifted too far away and Nuna fell. If I’d had a friend controlling Fox, this wouldn’t have been an issue at all.

With that said, the game can get aggravating at times. Initially, I shrugged it off because I didn’t grow up playing the side-scrolling platformers on the NES, SNES, or Sega Genesis. I’m only just getting interested in those types of games now.  However, there were moments during my playthrough of Never Alone when I could’ve sworn I’d timed it right, and Nuna seemed to land a jump on to the back of a Spirit, only to hang in midair without catching hold and then falling to her death. I couldn’t tell you how I eventually succeeded and got her to stick the landing. I think it had to do with where Fox moved the Spirit, but there was so much delicate back-and-forth involved that I don’t know exactly.

You will always feel bad when either Nuna or Fox dies, because every time it happens, the camera focuses on the other one crying and falling to the ground in grief. But this also allows you to feel the strong bond between the two of them, given that neither character talks. Instead, narrator James Mumiġan Nageak tells the story in the Iñupiaq language as you play, with English subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

Never Alone looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous. Those are easily the best aspects of the game. I enjoyed the quiet, haunting main theme. With Nuna and Fox often exploring the harsh environment with no one else around to help them, a big, dramatic arrangement with a full orchestra would have felt out of place in this story. The music’s there just enough to enhance the experience without feeling intrusive.

And there’s such a beautiful world to explore, from floating ice on the ocean to the ruins of a village with the eerie spirits from the Northern Lights trying to catch Nuna. I would love it if Upper One Games could make something in the style of Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a wide-open, exploration adventure based on other legends from First Nation cultures, with more characters, side-quests, etc. Based on what I’ve seen in Never Alone, that would be amazing.

Never Alone is currently available to purchase on the PlayStation Network at a discounted price for $4.99 until January 16th.  Although it is a short game, it’s worth checking out to support the work of the Iñupiat people.

Review: Flat Kingdom

Developer: Fat Panda Games
Publisher: Games Starter
Release Date: April 7, 2016
Platform(s): PC

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Flat Kingdom is an adventure platform game for the PC that is more adorable than I have words for. It’s also incredibly frustrating, just like almost all platformers.

You are Flat, knight of the Kingdom. The Princess has been captured because of course she has. By a fox-headed person, whom I assume is wearing a mask. They are also taking all of the crystals that are keeping the Kingdom wonderful and peaceful. Your job, as Flat, is to stop the Fox, save the Princess and return the Crystals. Easy, right?

The artwork is elegant. It honestly looks like it was all cut out of paper and beautifully crafted together. All of the enemies are adorable, but the boss monsters terrifying. I adore everything about this game: the music, sound effects, story, level designs. It is all incredibly thought out and masterfully put together to create an amazing experience for the player.

As Flat, you are primarily a circle, but can also turn into a square and triangle. Each shape has their own pros and cons for each situation, including how to defeat enemies. Thankfully, the game allows you to have a Shape Legend in the bottom right corner to remind you what shape beats what. Circle beats Square; Square beats Triangle; Triangle beats Circle. This is a constant throughout the game; however, it is difficult to tell what all the monster shapes are and this doesn’t necessarily apply to the boss fights. Which are hell all on their own.

The levels, of course, increase in difficulty, starting off with the false hope that I could actually get through a platformer once in my life. Each level reminded me that I’m horrible at these games and that this is my own personal hell. Whilst still having fun and loving the game, I am cursing at the screen each time I die because I was just never good at these to begin with. I will finish this game, though, if it’s the last thing I do.

Right now, I’m in the third section of the game, trying valiantly to finish it and not throw my computer out the window at the same time. My Let’s Plays have dwindled down into death montages and glares at the webcam, but I swear I love this game and, for $8, you will love this game, too. I can’t wait to see what the store has laid out for me because I feel there is so much more than meets the eye.

Watch my first let’s play here:

Review: Unravel

Review: Unravel

Developer: Coldwood Interactive
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2016
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC

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You know that I always say that I’m not good at puzzle games. Well, to be honest, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been playing puzzle games my whole life and, while I say I’m not good at them on camera when I get flustered, I can get through them fairly easily when I’m playing them on my own and I can take the time to figure it out. It’s just a matter of perspective. A puzzle-platformer game, Unravel has all the elements I love.

What’s it about?
Unravel follows a small humanoid creature named Yarny. Yarny is, as you can guess, made out of yarn. As you move, Yarny unravels, so you have to find all the clever places where yarn is stashed so he can remake himself. As Yarny, you move through different puzzles and obstacles in search of memories and small crocheted (or knit – it doesn’t specify and I don’t know enough to figure it out myself) animal-shaped pieces that his owner has lost during significant times in her life.

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What did I think?
This game is incredibly moving and absolutely beautiful. The storyline takes the whole game to reveal itself, but it’s so worth it. The storytelling aspect of Unravel is so beautifully done that you find yourself caring deeply for Yarny and his owner and her family. I cared about Yarny so much that I actually jumped or screamed during parts when the environment tried to attack him. It’s powerful, to say the least.

The graphics are amazing. Yarny is simple enough, but you can really see him getting smaller and smaller the more he moves around. The details are incredible. He’s also surrounded by this gorgeous scenery, whether it’s a beautiful bumbling brook in the backyard, a snowy vacation or a terrifyingly real lighting storm.

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The controls are easy to master and Yarny is very responsive. I’ve been playing on my PS4 and I’ve found that I very rarely yell at my screen, “Jump when I say JUMP!” (If you’ve been watching my Ori and the Blind Forest series, then you know I say that a lot). The gameplay is smooth and even relaxing, except when you’re in an area that’s super stressful… like when you’re trying not to get snatched up by birds in an open field.

Some puzzles are more complex than others and I wouldn’t say that they get any harder as the game goes on. There are 12 puzzles in all and once you get the hang of it and learn the game, they’re actually pretty quick to figure out. That doesn’t make them any less brilliant or the game any less challenging. There are little tricks and tips you really have to master in order to finish some of them.

The replayability in the game is low. Once you go through a level, you basically can just go through it again with no changes. There are little secrets in each level that could be fun to go back and explore; however, you’re really only going to get one play through out of the game – unless you’re a completionist.

Do I recommend it?
Yes, I do. It’s become one of my favorite games to play when it’s been a long day. It helps me unwind and I just can’t get enough of it. I highly recommend it. You can find it on Origin, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for $19.99.