Join us as we discuss the first “world game” Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna). What did you think of it?
This episode of Push to Smart contains spoilers for Never Alone.
STACEY: Welcome back to the games club. This time we’re only going to do one episode discussing Never Alone since it is quite a short game, but I think we have a lot of say about it regardless. So this will be our final thoughts.
STACEY: One of the things we really kind of focused on in our intro video was the fact that this was a self-proclaimed “world game,” and they were really pushing this as a new genre and we didn’t really know what that meant. Having now played the game, do you think you have an idea of what world games are?
JAYLEE: I do. When it was first explained what a world game is I was like “That’s a really cool idea…”
STACEY: There was a lot of talk and there was a kind of feeling of “That would be really cool if it works,” but it could also be just this very awkward separation of like, you know, whenever you’d have to play an educational game in school.
STACEY: Not really fun, and then there’s this real sense of “are you actually learning something from it?” But with this I feel like I have a good idea of where they were going for and I think for the most part it worked.
STACEY: Because as you progress through the game which is very short, very straightforward you unlock different videos unlocking to what they call their cultural ambassadors that discuss what you’ve just done or what you’re about to do. So for instance, right after that very cool animated opening sequence it will unlock a video explaining that style is called scrimshaw, this is the cultural significance of it. And so it creates this really direct connection between what you’re doing and what you’re seeing and how that is culturally significant. And I thought that was very cool.
JAYLEE: When you were playing did you watch the cultural insights as you played or did you…?”
STACEY: I did watch them as I was playing. As soon as it popped up I would click the button to go view it, what did you do?
JAYLEE: I waited till the end.
STACEY: Oh, okay.
JAYLEE: Because I thought I didn’t want to break up the kind of momentum of the game.
STACEY: Right, I didn’t find that it really broke my flow in any way.
JAYLEE: Because they’re not particularly long.
STACEY: And I did feel like I was coloring something. Like when she’s given her bola it’s like “Okay, what is this?” “Let me watch the video to figure out exactly what it is and what they use it for.” (Laughs)
STACEY: So I felt like that really worked, being able to watch it. But I could totally see how you would want to leave them to the end. Which, did you feel like you got as much out of it by saving it to the end and watching them all at once?
JAYLEE: I feel like the only thing where I was just kind of like “what?” was during the Northern Lights and I was like “Why are the Northern Lights attacking me?”
STACEY: Oh. (Laughs) Right.
JAYLEE: And when you go back it’s like “Oh, that’s really cool.”
STACEY: It kind of recontextualizes it.
JAYLEE: Yeah, it does give you some really good context and it gives you some really great insight into the culture that the game is based on.
STACEY: Mhmm, that was a particularly really good one because you see the Northern Lights and then you unlock the video and if you watch it that would tell you the Inupiaq view of the Northern Lights and the legends surrounding it and that would contextualize the entire level so you’d know going in why they’re attacking you. So that seemed like a really good use of it.
JAYLEE: Coming into it as like a world game, like you said I just kept thinking about the “educational games” from my childhood where I was like “Oh god, these are preachy and boring.” But this I felt like I actually– you’re not going to be like “Oh, I am an expert of the Inupiaq people” but you know it’s very much like “Oh, I kind of see where this is coming from” and you’re kind of given a new appreciation for it.
JAYLEE: But the game itself, it’s pretty straightforward platformer.
STACEY: Which it needs to be, I think. Because you need to make it approachable.
JAYLEE: The gameplay wasn’t as tight as I would have liked it to be. Just because I died a lot (Laughs). Like, in the last quarter of the game where it was just weird things, particularly with the wind changing and then you’d be like, impaled.
JAYLEE: And it was like (groans) and it would happen all the time. And there were a couple times where it would glitch out.
STACEY: It wasn’t very punishing, like you would start right back on the same ledge instead of having to start back at the beginning.
JAYLEE: I know, they had a lot of checkpoints, which I really appreciate.
STACEY: Yeah, it’s very approachable. Though I found I only had like one part where it really glitched out on me, like I was frozen in midair for a while and I just dropped. But most times I messed up and died it made me think “I wonder if it would be easier if I was playing with someone else in co-op.
STACEY: Because it’d be something like, I’d be moving the fox to move a platform and she’d be picked up by the Northern Lights.
JAYLEE: Or like that boss battle with the Manslayer.
STACEY: Right. You kind of had to get the rhythm like “Okay, I need to switch to the fox now and now I need to switch to her,” that kind of thing. But, did you play the co-op? Because I know you played the co-op for Octodad and stuff.
JAYLEE: I know, I usually play co-op for everything but this time I didn’t (Laughs).
STACEY: Okay, because I really felt like there was a lot of stuff where it would be easier if you were talking to another person (Laughs) instead of switching between them.
JAYLEE: Like, fifteen minutes into the game I was like “Wow, this reminds me of Child of Light but it’s actually good.”
STACEY: Right. (Laughs)
JAYLEE: Because, you know they’re both about young girls overcoming and for Child of Light the gameplay was pretty interesting and the story was like . . . bleh.
JAYLEE: For this game it’s a pretty simple story but it’s very… it’s just Nuna and the fox, it’s very charming and getting all the cultural insight…”
STACEY: LIke, I really enjoyed the fact that, at the very end, the last cultural insight you unlock is them explaining the original story that inspired it and how they made changes and what those changes are. So like in the original story it’s about a man that discovers this giant creating the blizzard and saves the village, and they’ve changed it to a little girl and the reason is it’s always the person you least expect to rise up and challenge them and save everybody else to kind of drive home the idea that we’re not bigger than anything else.
JAYLEE: Which was really lovely.
STACEY: It really was. And it’s one of those things like, yeah you know, little guy rises up to the big guy is very much a story shared by a lot of cultures but this kind of contextualized it why this is important to the Inupiaq people, for example. That was really the clincher of this is why this game exists and I feel, like you said, there’s some things that I wish were a little bit tighter, like I had trouble aiming the bola a lot and I did have some of the glitches and there were other parts where I thought it might be easier with co-op or really if there’s single player the single player should play. It felt a little bit like a very polished proof of concept. It’s like, this is what a world game will be and what it can become and if can go so many awesome places from here.
JAYLEE: You know we joke and talked about Child of Light and how it basically takes you by the shoulders and is like “You are having an emotional experience!”
JAYLEE: But this game, it’s simplicity really does give you an emotional experience.
STACEY: Well, they pay attention to all the right parts, they give details to all the right places that need detail. Like, there’s so much character just in the way that Nuna runs and that sometimes when you’re pulling the platform along as the fox she’ll kind of be looking around in wonder, and it’s like there’s so much character just in those tiny moments that kind of helps bridge any gaps where you know the narrator isn’t there telling you what’s going on. And it’s just really lovely the way they constructed it.
JAYLEE: It is. If I had one word to describe this game, it would be “lovely.”
JAYLEE: You said it seems like a proof of concept kind of thing. I think it feels like a full game.
STACEY: Oh, definitely. I mean, maybe that wasn’t the right way to put it, I didn’t want to sound condescending to what they did do but I feel like there are so many more directions they can go from here and so this really opens up a lot of possibilities for what you can do with this new genre of world game.
JAYLEE: I love how they kind of combined a really interesting documentary with this game to make it a complete experience of… I dunno, it’s hard to put into words really, because I haven’t really ever played anything like it.
STACEY: It’s new! (Laughs)
JAYLEE: It’s new. World games! (Laughs)
STACEY: Yeah, it hits that sweet spot that all those educational games of our youth, like Oregon Trail were trying to do and it’s actually teaching you and creating an emotional connection and grounding the experience in something you care about.
JAYLEE: Playing this game I was like “Oh, I know person XYZ who doesn’t play video games but they would love this,” especially with the documentary line going through it. I was like, “Wow, I need to tell everybody about this game.” (Laughs)
STACEY: Yeah, I had the exact same thought at the beginning, I kind of started to go back from that towards the end when I started dying a lot, like “No, they’d be totally frustrated here.” (Laughs) But it’s a perfect game to introduce somebody to and play co-op with them, I think. So, it was just a wonderful little game. I am so happy we played it!
JAYLEE: So that does it for our first Games Club of the year, we obviously really enjoyed Never Alone and are really excited about the prospect of more world games so let us know in the comments what you thought about Never Alone as well as the potential for future world games and don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date with all of our latest episodes and Game Club releases.