Inspired by tales of the natives of Alaska, Never Alone tells the story of a little Inupiat girl that becomes separated from her village and is saved by a white fox, who then keeps following her on her quest to find the root of the never-ending snow storms that torment her home.
Never Alone honors its title, as it is through and through a co-operative experience. Mostly it is the fox who enables the girl to go on further, as he not only can jump from wall to wall like a ninja to reach higher platforms from where he might drop conveniently placed ropes, but also is revealed to have command over the many spirits that populate the snowy realm and may serve as movable platforms, swings or ladders. The girl in turn can push around crates and eventually gets a magical bola, which she can use to clear away certain obstacles.
It is actually possible to play the game alone, switching between the two characters, but there are some technical issues that get in the way of the fun. Most of all, the AI is rather instable, and while it often performs better than probably most human companions, every once in a while it has some stupid hiccups where it just doesn't react in time when the player has to avoid hazards, and as one single hit kills, this can be extremely frustrating, so two player is the way to go.
Until the fox gets the ability to fly around, whereupon the second player's job becomes just downright boring, as he just hovers on screen, slowly directing the ghosts around to built a surmountable platform structure for the girl. It seems this would be the ideal setup for an adult and small child team, but they would have a hard time to even get that far, so it's a very uneven experience no matter how you approach it.
The level design is similarly unbalanced. There are quite a few clever puzzles, but those alternate with boring long stretches that are little more than running along and jumping across a few obstacles. Particularly the chase scenes with ice bears and an evil man who wants the girl's bola for some reason are quite tedious. Worse are the sections where you have to withstand the wind, which means crawling down on the floor every few seconds or else it blows you off your feet. Especially in the final part of the game, frequently changing wind directions and severities are irritating. It also worsens the dissatisfying feel that the controls have anyway. It goes for cinematic platforming physics, which kind of make the jumps just a little bit unpredictable.
There is an educational element to the game as well, as it seeks to teach players about the ways of traditional Inupiat life. This isn't implemented all that well, though, as you just unlock slices of a documentary as you go through the game. Whenever you pass an owl, a little icon pops up to prompt you for an optional viewing via button press, but watching a slow-paced documentary that consists mostly of talking heads and still images can really take you out of the experience, so it is best viewed as a bonus documentary after finishing the game.
But most of all, Never Alone wants to a narrative game, so it almost seems like it should have focused even more on the pretty environments, ghosts and general Arctic feel, maybe less platforming and more puzzle/adventure. It is a tough title to recommend, but when a unique setting, charming characters and imaginative aesthetics mean a lot to you, they might just be enough to look past the technical and game design flaws.