The Northern Lights are more terrifying than I ever imagined. Floating just above my head is a pair of grasping, neon green arms. They're attached to a malicious spirit that slides through the air like butter on a hot skillet, eyes eagerly searching for a warm body to snatch.
Suddenly skittish, I take one step too far. The spirit lunges, scooping me up without hesitation, and all I can do is watch helplessly as it carries my tiny avatar — a now shrieking Iñupiaq girl named Nuna — into the sky and away.
Lead game designer Grant Roberts tells me that Nuna's fate doesn't look good.
Never Alone, a puzzle platformer launching Nov. 4 for Windows PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, is the first title in E-Line World Games' initiative to bring traditional stories from indigenous cultures to life. The visually endearing game follows Nuna and her Arctic fox as they search for a way to end a harsh blizzard. Along they way, they'll encounter spirits that will both help and hinder their journey.
I've already clashed with one such spirit in my run-in with those of the Northern Lights. Roberts tells me that according to the Iñupiaq people, the lights are actually the spirits of children who died too young. If they catch you, they take your head off and play soccer with it. That, Roberts says, is their legend.
Seeking out helpful spirits is a job best left to Fox — a fluffy, sweet looking creature who serves as a gateway to the spirit world. When helpful spirits are near, its Fox's job to reveal them.
Never Alone allows you to switch between Nuna and Fox in single-player, or team up with a friend using local co-op. Both have slightly different abilities. Nuna is adept at pushing and pulling objects, and it's easy for her to use ropes or ladders to get around. Fox, meanwhile, is better suited to jumping off or scrambling up walls.
Their skills will help players progress through the level's challenge, but also collect "cultural insights" hidden in the game. These moments include anywhere from 90 second to three minute videos featuring interviews and more with the Iñupiaq people.
During my two-player demo, I worked with Fox as Nuna to help open new pathways. When Nuna got stuck, Fox could climb hard-to-reach places and knock down obstacles to help her up. Nuna, meanwhile, used her weight to break areas in the stage and help Fox through.
Most solutions to the game's puzzles won't involve direct confrontation, even when enemies appear, Roberts said. Fox can distract would-be pursuers away. If one player dies or is captured, both people will restart at the nearest checkpoint. There is no moving on without both characters.
"One of the reasons we call it never alone is because you have to stay together," Roberts said.