PC, PS4, XONE, WIIU
ENGAGE – Alaska’s Cook Inlet Tribal Council teamed up with software developer Upper One Games to produce one of the most culturally relevant video games about indigenous people ever released. This game features beautiful landscapes, soothing sounds and authentic storytelling that does more than just preserve Inuit culture – it celebrates it.
This story based side-scroller has many puzzle elements and is suitable for all ages. You play as a female hero, an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna and can also control her little arctic fox friend. The storyline is based on Alaskan indigenous tales told in eight chapters.
You can immediately feel that this project was produced by indigenous people. There is no tokenization or misappropriation of culture. I felt an emotional draw as I watched elders tell their stories in the ‘cultural insights’ videos that were gradually unlocked as I played. It feels like every aspect of the Iñupiaq tradition was covered in a very respectful way.
All Canadian schools should have a copy of Never Alone installed on a computer in their library for children to play.
The game begins with you running from a hungry polar bear and you have to jump over pitfalls and climb over ledges to escape. The game gradually teaches you how to swap between Nuna and her fox which must be done to complete certain areas. Nuna is able to push and pull boxes and also use her bolo throw to break ice while the arctic fox can fit into small areas and jump very high.
A narrator tells Nuna’s story in the Iñupiaq language which enhances the atmosphere of the north. The voice actor is an elder that uses a very soothing and gentle tone which I found endearing. It is like playing a narrated tale.
Some of the puzzles are mildly frustrating and I died quite a few times trying to complete certain challenges. We all know the internet has no chill which makes the aggregate reviews of 73/100 on Metacritic that much more telling.
Critics positively noted the game’s art design, which blends a simple, cartoon style with scrimshaw influences. The included documentary videos were also remarked upon as “[leaving the player] feeling educated as well as entertained” and “[doing] an excellent job of giving a cultural context” for the game.