The fall release season is in full swing, meaning gamers everywhere are quietly sobbing over their wallets as a metaphoric metric-ton of games are being released. We’re in the middle of the pretty hectic month of November, and next week, things are about to get even crazier. Right here and now, I’m officially dubbing November 18th as Day Zero. With more than a handful of greatly-anticipated games hitting shelves, including Dragon Age: Inquisition, Far Cry 4, Grand Theft Auto V, and Little Big Planet 3, I’ll be surprised if I hear from any of my friends for at least a month.
But for me, there’s one game sneaking its way into Day Zero that’s peaked my interest since the first rumblings of it made its way to the internet. Unknowingly overshadowed by its AAA cousins, Never Alone, or Kisima Inŋitchuŋa, is hitting current-gen consoles and PC come the 18th, and we have every reason to be excited.
Upper One Games may be the coldest studio in the United States — and I mean that literally. Nestled in the bustling metropolis of Anchorage, Alaska, Upper One Games stands as an exemplification of just how creative and diverse the industry can be. After all, it’s the first Indigenous-owned game company in the U.S.
Launched in 2012 by CITC Enterprises, a for-profit subsidiary of Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Upper One Games looks to be pioneering a new wave of games that aim to share the importance of culture, community, and creativity while creating a safe space for the postulation of inclusive game development.
Never Alone stands as a testament to just that.
The story puts you in the shoes of a young Iñupiaq girl named Nuna and her companion, an arctic fox. The puzzle-adventure game focuses on Iñupiaq lore as you traverse the landscape in the hopes of saving Nuna’s people from an eternal blizzard. Playing through single-player or cooperatively, you’ll be faced with traps, tricks, and treacherous foes that threaten to destroy everything you’ve ever known. Never Alone will allow players to seamlessly switch between Nuna and Fox, allowing each character’s unique abilities to shine in your time of need.
The most unique aspect of Never Alone rests in its lore. Having been developed in collaboration with Iñupiaq, the Alaska Native people, Upper One Game’s atmospheric puzzle platformer brings traditions and culture to life through honored storytelling. Having worked with over 40 native storytellers, Native elders, and community members, Never Alone looks to honor the importance of passing down tradition using one of the most unique media available: video games.
Staying true to its roots, Never Alone also implements the Native language. Using only English subtitles for translation, the entire game is told through Iñupiaq, an Eskimo-Aleut language spoken in the north and northwest of Alaska. The master storyteller will guide players through eight chapters filled with Iñupiaq stories as Nuna, with the aid of Helping Spirits, explores a vast world of danger, beauty, and hope.
“It’s a great way of transferring our culture to the younger generation,” said Gloria O’Neill, president and CEO of Cook Inlet Tribal Council, in an interview with Alaska Dispatch News. She hopes that Never Alone will aid in bridging the gap between generations, allowing culture and tradition to be passed down in a modern way. The life lessons riddled throughout traditional Iñupiaq stories can be important for people of all backgrounds, and the hope is to be able to share them with a wider audience.
Speaking bluntly, I haven’t been this excited for a story-based indie since Tim Schafer’s Broken Age graced my steam account. Looking back, I’ve always been delegated to underdog status, and the desire to do something great—something meaningful—is an ever-looming presence. It’s that attitude that drives me to believe in studios like Upper One Games. So often, the most important stories that can be told fall into obscurity, overshadowed by the powers that be. Never Alone is important, not only for the Native community, but for the whole of gamers. We pride ourselves on wanting to explore new worlds, devour interesting stories, and connect with characters that never truly leave us.
Games, even pop culture in general, have the power to reflect what’s important in the world; they serve as a universal way to communicate with those around us. Games break down barriers between culture, race, sex, and creed, and they’re a way to connect through social understanding and creativity. The world is filled with so much diverse beauty, and now, more than ever, is the time to express that. I believe that Never Alone is breaking down barriers, and it’s my hope that this game—this experience—will usher in a new way to share stories. To share culture. To share humanity.
In this industry, there’s always grandiose talk of creating truly inclusive and engaging games, and for the fist time in a long time, it looks like Upper One Games is finally going to accomplish that. They’re leveraging the power of video games to carry on unique stories and empower and extend culture to those who would otherwise be left unaware. The power of video games in today’s culture is unbelievable, and Never Alone is tapping into that creative energy to bring us one of the most unique and expressive indie games we’ve seen in quite a long time.
Never Alone launches globally on November 18th for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. Be sure to check out the launch trailer below: