Never Alone: Arctic Collection | Review | Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: E-Line Media, Upper One Games
  • Publisher: E-Line Media
  • Release Date: 24/2/2022
  • Price: £13.49 / $14.99
  • Review code provided by E-Line Media

Introducing: Never Alone: Arctic Collection Review

Never Alone is one of those games that I’ve played before but I never really think about on a regular basis. The first time I experienced this title was all the way back in 2015 when I got is as one of the free Playstation Plus games just after purchasing my Ps4. I suppose I’ve got some nostalgia for it for that alone. It was one of the first games that I played on the console. I had these vague good feelings when I thought about the game, but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly had been good about it. So, I was eager to give it another chance when offered it. Plus, this new release had the DLC, Foxtales that I had never played bundled in as well, giving me some fresh new content to toy around with.

An Authentic Tale

Never Alone is the story of Nuna, a young and adventurous Iñupiaq qirl, and I do literally mean that it is a story. The entire game is framed as a passed on oral folk tale in the Iñupiaq language, which is just a really beautiful way to go about telling a story like this, as though you’ve been sat beside the fire by a grandfather eager to tell you a story as a child. After vicious storms and a strange man both assuage her village for a good deal of time, Nuna sets out to put things right, accompanied by a small arctic fox that she met when it rescued her from a polar bear. Together, the two form a solid bond, helping each other through the landscape as each can do something that the other cannot. Nuna has her Bola and can interact with things with her hands, while the fox is able to interact with spirits of the land in order to overcome other obstacles. The DLC sees both these characters returning to take on another adventure together, another tale told to us by the old man, this time travelling over the water to follow a small mouse in another fantastical journey.

Neither the game or the DLC is very lengthy, which can be good for a game like this that is intended to be played in multiplayer, with one person each controlling one of the two companions. It can sometimes be hard to get together with a friend if that’s who you were intending to play with, after all, and this isn’t exactly a party game. I would estimate that the main game takes about three to four hours to beat, depending on how much you rush and how friendly the AI is to you if you’re playing single player (we’ll get to that later), and the DLC will run you about an hour and half to two hours, so just under half the size of the main game.

However, the game is not all that you get in this purchase. Since the game was produced jointly with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, there’s a series of little couple minute documentaries that can be unlocked the more that you progress into the game, usually at a relevant moment. For example, early in the game you unlock the documentary on scrimshaw when the game takes on a scrimshaw-like art style and the clip on arctic foxes is unlocked, you guessed it, when you meet your arctic fox friend. You can tell that a great deal of love and respect was put into authentic representation of the culture with input from those that were interviewed. This is a culture that exists fairly far away from me and that I have never personally come in contact with. Honestly, this game is a delightful gateway into learning more about them for those who might not have been otherwise naturally exposed.

Exploring the Cold North

Gameplay is fairly straightforward, with you traversing the world in a 2D plane in order to move through the several chapters that the game has to offer on your adventure. Along the way, you deal with some puzzle elements that make use of the abilities of either one or both of the playable characters special skillset, overcoming them as a team. As I mentioned before, Nuna has a bola that she can throw at various points and the fox has a connection with the spirits to slightly guide them as needed to help one or both of them reach what they need.  It’s all fairly understandable and I don’t foresee that most people would get stuck on anything for more than a few minutes at the very most. 

The one downside is that the game is a little on the clunky side. I don’t know if it’s because it’s already eight years old at this point and has just aged poorly or if it was always this way and my memories are betraying me, if I’m being honest. Nuna and her fox both feel a little on the heavy side and don’t have the most agile of jumps, so your platforming might feel a little off as a result. The controls are also a little imprecise as well, so I found myself missing jumps at times that I felt I should have made. Thankfully, the game isn’t asking you for pixel perfect performance in your platforming.

A New Experience with Friends

The game is playable both as a co-op experience, or as one where you do everything on your own by swapping between the characters at the press of a button. Playing with another person is the obviously intended way, given the story setup, and does provide the smoothest gameplay as you can simply ask the other person to try something instead of having to switch to do it yourself. While playing on your own is perfectly well and good, it can put you at the mercy of your companion being controlled by the AI. There are times where it understands how to get where you need it to be, but others, it will just stand there and wait around. More than once, I completed a small bit of simple platforming only to have to do it a second time with the other character because they didn’t follow, even with nothing blocking their way. However, this is a minor frustration for the most part and didn’t add any excessive bloat to the game.

The puzzle that you encounter are varied enough to keep things interesting for the entirety of your playtime, I found. I never felt like I was just doing the same thing over and over, though this is likely a result of the breezy and quick length alongside the actual variation in the puzzles given. What I did appreciate, though, was that the DLC was not just more of the same. It added a few new elements to spice the gameplay up. For one, Nuna has a little boat for the two of them now, allowing for easy traversal over water. The two can also swim now, where water could mean death in the base game. The underwater segments are wonderfully atmospheric and enjoyable, particularly as the two seem to be able to stay under as long as they want since Foxtales avoids the stress any sort of breath meter.

The Chilly Atmosphere

Atmosphere is actually something that runs strong in Never Alone: Arctic Collection. The whole time that I was playing, I stayed bundled up in a warm blanket as the snowy lands of the game seemed to almost give off a chill. There’s some exaggeration in the character designs of the side characters, but Nuna and her fox themselves are always delightfully adorable, no matter the circumstance. Their animations are delightful and in the short cutscenes that we are given, you can really tell how fond they are of one another.

The music wasn’t something that stood out to me really strongly, but the rest of the sound was absolutely delightful! The way that they have the snow crunch reminds me so much of the big snow that we got in my area just last month. It feels so accurate and gave me the impression of just what kind of snow Nuna is trekking through the whole time. The storyteller was also a delight. His delivery was perfect. Even if I couldn’t understand the exact words that he was saying, I could completely understand the tone that he was giving what he was saying. It was perfect for the sort of oral tradition that the presentation is embodying.

The Little Catch

It’s sad to say that there are some technical issues on display here, though, despite the game being well worn on just about every platform. I started up the game, but was called away while still in one of the very first areas. Upon returning to the game, it would crash every time that I booted it up and tried to continue where I left off. I tried several times before restarting. As I was only a few minutes in, this wasn’t that big of a problem, but I can see it being absolutely devastating if you had to stop much deeper into the game. Granted, this never happened to me again after restarting.

A Journey Complete

Never Alone is a game that I really love and this Arctic Collection is a stellar way to be able to play it on the go. However, it’s not the most economic way. While I was working on writing up this review, the game was on sale on steam with DLC for about a quarter of the price of the Nintendo Switch edition. Given that the game is available on just about every platform and has been for a while, these sorts of sales are not uncommon. However, if you want to give more full support to the creators and have it on the go on something larger than your phone screen, you can’t go wrong with this port, minor technical hiccups aside.

Pros

  • Beautifully told story
  • Cute characters
  • Short and breezy co-op experience
  • Strong representation
  • Educational!

Cons

  • AI isn’t the brightest when playing alone
  • One technical hiccup
  • Platforming can feel clunky

Verdict

Never Alone isn’t perfect, but it’s a delightful slice of co-op adventuring through both an adventure and a culture.

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