When Never Alone was released on PC, PS4 and Xbox One last year (it came to Mac earlier in 2015), it was rightfully lauded as a masterpiece. Developer Upper One Games had teamed up with publisher E-Line Media to craft a brilliant adventure focused on a tale of Alaska’s native Iñupiaq people, as a young girl named Nuna and her fox, Fox, tried to save their village from a deathly blizzard.
With Upper One themselves being made up of Iñupiaq and with the game having been made with the input of Iñupiaq elders too, Never Alone successfully shone a spotlight onto the culture and ways of a group of people that most had never heard of. It wasn’t a dry, interactive textbook from your secondary/high school and it wasn’t some Chinese whispers sort of retelling by developers who’d merely seen or heard of the Iñupiaq but weren’t Iñupiaq themselves. Never Alone was authentic as it got.
So when (expansion DLC) Never Alone: Foxtales was announced, promising to showcase more of Alaska’s environment and introducing us to its spring season, plenty (myself included) were glad to have another reason to play the game. But is this expansion substantial enough? And has Upper One managed to deliver something fresh or is it more of the same? Read the rest of this Never Alone: Foxtales review to find out.
What is ‘more of the same’ are Never Alone: Foxtales‘ art and graphics. As in, Never Alone: Foxtales‘ art and graphics are every bit as gorgeous as the base game’s. Never Alone impressed with warm, burning orange of its flames, while the luminescent neon greens of the head-snatching spirits were also eerie and unsettling (in the most positive of ways) and although Never Alone: Foxtales doesn’t offer the same sort of variety, Upper One’s presentation of an Alaskan spring should be praised.
Predominantly water-based, Foxtales is (mostly) deep blues and bold whites as Nuna and Fox dip underwater and find ways to bypass chilling, icy obstacles. The game’s water also ebbs and flows quite nicely as Nuna and Fox canoe across it; looking realistic in a game that otherwise looks quite traditional.
Foxtales‘ gameplay, on the other hand, is the perfect example of what an expansion should be like. Never Alone had a solid amount of gameplay variety, with Fox able to move and communicate with spirits and Nuna able to bola (her swinging apparatus) unstable ice to pieces and there was also some grand platforming gameplay (such as the thrilling escape through the trees towards the end) so it was always going to be difficult to build something even better on top that, but thankfully, Upper One has pulled it off.
New gameplay includes the spirits’ new ‘air breathing’ and ‘ice chunk dropping’ ways, and there’s that aforementioned canoe as well. Together, this makes for some clever puzzles as players, switching between Nuna and Fox (sometimes very quickly), have to drop ice chunks into water to crumble barriers and move the spirits so that their breaths move the chunks appropriately. Or, their breaths are a hindrance and push the chunks in the wrong direction, or they blow the canoe into danger. The canoe can also help, as sometimes its used as a ferry for the chunk and so using all of the game’s pieces is vital.
I personally found the puzzles more challenging than in the base game and although it was a plus point, it wasn’t always. The canoe, for example, is a bit fiddly to control. Playing on PS4, moving the canoe required moving the analogue stick in a semi-circular motion, which was meant signify the oar’s position in the water. This wasn’t very intuitive though, especially having to hold the circle button to keep the oar in your hand as well. It made some sections, where you have to put your canoe in a precise position, an annoyance.
Never Alone: Foxtales‘ story also distinguishes those ‘same-y’ expansion fears and it also avoids seeming preachy. In the announcement of the DLC, and in the Cultural Insights videos, the team has made it clear that they want Foxtales to teach players about the importance of respecting wildlife, not to tease it and only to harm it when you’re killing it for food or other resources.
Foxtales is an adaptation of Iñupiaq story The Two Coastal Brothers and it follows Fox and Nuna as they tease a mouse and it falls in the water, with the duo soon being terrorised by a giant mouse who has already sent one village to its watery end. The mouse is an obvious warning against disrespecting animals and although ‘defeating a giant rodent’ doesn’t exactly spell out ‘respect animals’ on paper, Upper One has done a good job at conveying this cautionary tale that should come across well to players, particularly to Foxtales’ younger audience.
The fabulous Cultural Insights videos introduced in the first game also make a return in Foxtales, further helping to promote that the DLC’s overall message.. There are five new ones to unlock each in the theme of helping wildlife, though a few, about Willie Panik Goodwin, Sr. (whose telling of the story inspired Foxtales) and how his actions impacted the community did bring a warmth to my frozen heart. I’m just glad that Upper One has taken the time to make some more of these short vignettes because they’re enlightening and are a fantastic teaching tool.
That said, I wish that you didn’t have to unlock the Cultural Insights videos because they’re one of the best things about Never Alone: Foxtales (and the base game) so the fact that you can end up missing them just because you haven’t figured out how to reach the owl required to unlock each one (doing so is a puzzle in itself) is a shame. It would make more sense for them to be unlocked, automatically, once you’ve completed the game.
All in all, Never Alone: Foxtales is well worth your $3.99/£3.19/€3.99 and is an excellent expansion to an already marvellous base game. Looking forward to see what the Never Alone team can create within this world, next.