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‘Never Alone’: Why It’s OK to Cry (and Die)

never-alone

Never Alone is a game worth your time and tears, says Andrew Martin.

(Originally written on 5th May 2015)

When I finally bit the bullet and bought a one-year subscription to PlayStation Plus a few weeks ago, I did so with one goal in mind: To get the free monthly games and play the living hell out of them. In the months preceding this purchase, I thought to myself, “Hey, I don’t really play games online that much—and never really have, for that matter—so why do I need PS+?” A close friend mentioned that he mostly used it to get the free games, but even then I somehow convinced myself I didn’t need it. That was, of course, until I saw that Never Alone was available for free. I’m not entirely sure when or how I came across some of the great coverage this game received, but I’m certainly glad that I did. For one, it inked the contract between myself and PS+, and it’s simply one of the better gaming experiences I’ve had in recent memory. However, that’s not what I decided to write about it. No, that inspiration didn’t strike until I read GameSpot’s completely off-base take on Never Alone. Here’s a bit from the review’s first graf:

Never Alone is a heartbreaking game, but not just because it’s a particularly sad one. No, it’s because the game’s concept is admirable–a platformer steeped in the culture and folklore Native Alaskan Iñupiaq people–but the game itself is shabby.

“Fine… that’s fine,” I thought to myself, trying not to wince too hard at the damning language in those two sentences. The writer at least acknowledged the powerful nature of the game’s narrative, which provides insight into a culture that so few of us know about. And yet, I couldn’t stop myself from the swirling thoughts of frustration that came to mind as I read the rest of the review, which talks about resenting the journey by the time you finish the game because the controls aren’t that great. Oh, and then there’s this: “[T]he game also throws you into chase sequences or platforming puzzles that require precise timing which the controls simply do not allow.”

BullSHIT, my friend.

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Yes, Never Alone requires some seriously strong platforming skills but, um, it’s a goddamned platforming game. You cannot play a game like this and get pissed off because you apparently aren’t very good at it—that’s on you, not the game. Did I run into a few instances in which I wanted to break my Dual Shock controller in two? Yeah, maybe, but I also took a deep breath and just started over again. I know this is a difficult game for people who may not be very good at platformers but isn’t somewhat decent hand-eye coordination necessary in every game out there? OK, not every game, but still, you get my point.

Again, this is a platformer, so you should damn-well expect some difficult platforming instances. You will die—a lot—but that’s perfectly fine. Why? Because practice makes perfect, damn it. But beyond that, you learn through playing Never Alone that death isn’t the end. It’s merely a segue into another portion of your existence. At least, that’s something shared by the game’s narrative, which was crafted with the help of the Iñupiaq people. In addition to shaping the storyline, which is actually based on one of their own legends, they appear throughout the game in documentary-style vignettes. It’s through these video clips that you learn more about the Iñupiaq, the game, and (if you’re open-minded enough) life in general.

While I must admit that the videos were certainly educational and simply wonderful to watch, they weren’t the cause of the tears referenced in this article’s title. No, that occurred elsewhere in the game, at a point I would rather not tell you about so as not to spoil anything. But when it happens? Yeesh. I hope you at least get choked up, if not shed a tear or two, because the game deserves it. And shit, man, it’s OK to cry. Promise.

Alright, so, should I play the game?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I think it’s worth the $14.99 price tag, but I don’t blame you if you hold out for a discounted price in the (hopefully) near future.

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