[i]“Have you ever lost a friend you care about? I have...”[/i]
As you anticipate the regaling of our adult hero's story, told through a bodiless narration to a young listener, you wander through an empty house, spiritually transported back through time to your days as a fledgling. An unknown force, sparked by wide-eyed wonder, prods you forward through the recesses of the abode, a seemingly normal household that becomes less normal as you take each step. Growing more and more disheveled with each passing moment, your young protagonist finds his missing uncle's laboratory with experiments beyond most human comprehension. He also finds something more, perhaps something for him—a suit that fits him too snugly that will aid him on a wild adventure in a land that few know of and fewer have ever seen.
[i]“He chased his dreams to faraway worlds...”[/i]
In the attic, we find something akin to a launcher combined with a teleporter combined with strewn trash. Taking a small step forward, we are propelled to a place where not even our wildest dreams could take us. Did your uncle come this way? Lush greenery and floating islands populate this strange enchanted land. It's not normal here—it's new, it's previously unseen, it's terrifying. There is something that pulls you forward, however, as you muster the gumption and take your first step in this unfamiliar territory. Slowly, as you move forward, this place does not feel so unnatural—almost like a second home, but far more irrational than your time on Earth. Wait. Are you still on Earth? What is this place exactly? Who knows? It does not really matter now, as things are topsy-turvy anyway and your only choice is to progress and seek out your missing family member.
It is here where A Story About My Uncle shows its colors and separates itself vastly from story-driven games that have permeated our culture recently. Far and removed from titles like Gone Home and Dear Esther, titles that have jokingly been called “walking simulators” where your main goal is to walk from the beginning of the story to the end, A Story About My Uncle takes the time to forge a relationship between its game mechanics and its story, building a foundational narrative that drives you to explore not only within the confines of your straight shot from beginning to end, but to manage different routes that may not have been so apparent from the beginning.
[i]“And somehow...I ended up in one of them...”[/i]
The suit you grabbed back there was not just a fashion statement left to you by your uncle before you, but instead allows you all the tools to take advantage of this brand new environment. Your adolescent legs could only take you so far before, but augmented by your cool, new digs, jumping and running become a breeze. In fact, you even have the ability to jump higher than ever before to new heights that basketball stars would be incredibly envious of. Your tireless legs will take you further than ever before, and combining the two will take you to places you could not have imagined.
Your legs are not your only mode of transportation, of course, because jumping from floating island to an orbiting rock is dangerous work for a young man. No, you also have a grappling tether at your disposal to take yourself up, bring yourself down, cross wide chasms of nothingness—whatever your heart desires, your newfound ability will take you there. Combining all three of your powerful abilities, you will set proverbial sale into this strange land to find out exactly where your uncle is.
[i]“Suddenly, I found myself in a strangely beautiful place. I could soar through the air...”[/i]
There is something to be said about how A Story About My Uncle handles the relationship between creating a non-violent platforming action game and interweaving it with a thoughtful narrative in a way that keeps players engaged in one or the other or both. At its heart, A Story About My Uncle is a two-hour game if you play it strictly like a game; jumping from one rock to another all while planning to grapple to yet another to reach your next destination is thrilling and there's a true sense of speed involved as you soar through the air making split-second decisions about your next move lest you find yourself in the suffocating waters below (from where you will be generously respawned from a nearby checkpoint. Those who take the game to its limits, pursuing its delicately-crafted world, will find that the game offers somewhere up to five or six hours of play. Each section has been preciously painted with intricate scenery and new ways to approach and peruse the environments with your laser-like tether. Explore. Be curious. All those grapple points are for you.
This brings us to a point that gives you a tickle in your tummy. As you continue on your journey, you notice that your uncle, despite his absence, left you little marks of where his own suit had come. See, as you move, your grappling points leave a mark and there are instances where you will see them happen very closely to or even overlap with those left by your uncle. It gives you a strange sensation of following in his footsteps, becoming more like him. Conversely, you can also carve your own path in the game by finding new ways to traverse the areas, giving you another sense of growth, perhaps like your uncle, but much different in execution. Just one of the small touches that crafts a narrative without saying a word.
[i]“Saw things and met beings you couldn't imagine...”[/i]
My, and we haven't even gotten to the deeper parts of the game. There is not much to say in regards to characters outside of the narrator without giving much away, but there are strange things afoot in this even stranger land. Narrator aside, the voice acting feels a little weak with other characters you encounter, and your silent protagonist serves more as a vehicle of progression. The quiet is quite welcome, however, as a fully-voiced character would have merited cries of joy as you soar through the air and nonsense filler talk. No, silence is certainly better in this situation.
There is certainly something peaceful about soaring through the air in each of these beautiful locales that resonates from something of this Earth, but not-quite-of-this-Earth. Practically everything is interesting to look at, with an unsettling sense of familiarity at every point. Such a beautiful game that rarely fails to please visually.
[i]“I can't shake the feeling that this place is still out there...Waiting to be found once again...”[/i]
Potentially the biggest letdown of the game is that some sections were deliberately created for you to fail multiple times. Though the checkpoint system is generous, there are a few instances that will have you clawing at your keyboard or controller, wishing there was an easier way to skip past, especially for those more concerned about the narrative of the title and less about finding a challenge. There is great personal reward for persevering and a fantastic sense of accomplishment to accompany.
A Story About My Uncle is a prime example of how to delicately marry and balance the important aspects of actual play. Though it has some slow points in play and strange delivery in character, Gone North Games have offered us something that other studios should be envious of—a first title that not only manages to enrapture you with its fast and fluid play, but keeps you interested in learning more about the direction of the story. Absolutely something to be proud of, and certainly not a title to overlook.
[i]“This...is a story about my uncle.”[/i]
Day 1 | Gone North Games