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    Thunderbuck
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    Never Alone

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    Work of art

    This is a treat.

    This game was designed around legends of the Inupiat, the indigenous people along the northern coast of Alaska. The central character is a girl named Nuna, who leaves her home to search for the source of the incessant blizzards that threaten her village. She is joined VERY early by a wily Arctic Fox, who becomes her companion and protector as she overcomes increasingly challenging obstacles.

    The artwork is beautiful, the story is captivating, and the gameplay builds nicely in complexity from a simple beginning. It works nicely as a two player co-op game. Nuna and the fox have different abilities and each must contribute those abilities to different puzzles (in single player mode you switch back and forth between the two–but it doesn’t flow as well). My pre-teen daughter and I have been playing together and enjoying it tremendously.

    While it’s pretty easy for either character to die (stopping the game for both), checkpoints are frequent and rarely start you more than a few seconds back. The challenges grow in intensity and complexity as the story progresses, and include eluding a hungry polar bear and defeating a man bent on destroying villages (and stealing Nuna’s weapon, a bolo).

    Progressing through the game unlocks a number of "cultural insights"; short videos about the Inupiat people, their culture, and their life in one of the harshest environments on earth. These segments were shot with a few dozen different people of different ages and present some wonderful stories and knowledge. It is not a requirement of the game to watch these, but they make a wonderful diversion.

    The creative decisions in this game are wonderful. There’s a lovely, dark look that conveys a wintery feel. The characters are all rendered with great details (the fox’s movement is very hyper and playful). Music is spare and at times is drowned out by the squalling blizzard. There’s a sense of drama and foreboding in the whole style of the game, and the artwork is simply beautiful. The developers did a wonderful job.

    I’ve seen many other examples of this kind of game before where it tries to convey a cultural experience. They tend to be either "too educational" and boring, or they sacrifice authenticity for the sake of game play. "Never Alone" seems to strike just the right balance, though, presenting a beautiful story, beautifully rendered, with characters you genuinely come to care about.

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