GAME NAME: A Story About My Uncle
DEVELOPER(S): Gone North Games
PUBLISHER(S): Coffee Stain Studios
GENRE(S): First-Person Platformer, Adventure
RELEASE DATE(S): May 28th, 2014
A Story About My Uncle isn’t a story about any one’s uncle at all. It’s a story about how developers entice gamers to persevere through gameplay. It’s a story about how they drive us to keep playing, even though we may want to do this (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ a whole bunch of times. (Yes, I just used an emoji in my review. I did that and I am not ashamed.)
A Story About My Uncle puts you in a fantastic space-ish suit and catapults you into a beautiful, challenging and harsh alien world. You are playing out the narrator’s very unconventional bedtime story to his daughter. Believe it or not, you are shot up into your Uncle Fred’s garbage disposal system; it’s rather large and rather strange. Instead of actually ending up in the garbage, you end up in a strange world inhabited by weird clay-like salamander people who might have at some stage been the former step in the evolution of the Na’Vi. (Those big-ass, cat-dog people in Avatar who decided that a primary colour as a skin colour would make awesome camouflage; not the Dota 2 team).
Relatively shortly after being shot into this weird and wonderful new world, you meet one of the salamander Na’Vi. She’s called Maddie (Madelein) and informs you that your uncle is, in fact, also there and that it’s a good idea to find him. You leave her behind, but later into the game she joins you as a companion. Having no other function other than to sponge on your awesome suit as transport to a better place for her, she also presents you with a fun little challenge. This, however, is as far as mingling with the weirdo’s goes.
At first, I must admit I didn’t think all that much about the game. It was rather bland and slow and unimpressive. But once the actual gameplay kicks in, which wasn’t too long after the game started, it was absolutely awesome. As the game progresses so does the suit you are wearing. Going from only being able to jump far and high, you are given a grapple functionality, and later on some rocket boots. Because what is a space-suit without rocket boots!
You could think of this game as a kind of Portal meets Dear Esther. With the visuals of Dear Esther and the propulsion of Portal, your journey through this unknown, undiscovered world is as much a pleasure to look at as it is to play. Your environments are, after all, as an important part of the game as your suit. You’ll need to use it to progress by jumping from platform to platform while using grapples and boosts to propel yourself to your target landing area. And trust me, it really isn’t always as easy as that may sound.
As you reach different environments, progressing becomes more and more challenging. The suit won’t always be there to save your butt either. At some stages, it would have lost power, forcing you to adjust your strategy. I found this to be a refreshing way to change the pace and the challenge. That which you may have done with the suit’s functions and that you may have taken for granted, you now have to do by being smart. You’ll even have to depend on the environment to power up your suit with its crystals, which seem to be the core of the game.
This first-person platformer is a test, a test of endurance and a test of how good you are at figuring shit out. The controls are very simple and very effective, making concentrating on beating the game a whole lot easier. You can also, optionally, set out to find some collectibles. These will allow you to unlock some pretty cool stuff in the game like extra modes.
A Story About My Uncle has a very striking visual factor to it. Moving around and forward is continuously breath-taking. There are about a bazillion “WOW” and *gasp* moments where what you are experiencing is as unexpected as a random cartoon anvil dropping on your noggin… but, you know, in a good way. Propelling yourself in that first-person perspective can be extremely dizzying and extraordinarily dazzling. Being air bound and moving at high speeds, you are required to think fast. If I wasn’t afraid of heights before, I sure as hell am now. There is no real room for error, but luckily, the developers have been so kind as to have regular saving points. You almost always know in which direction you need to go thanks to waypoints left by your uncle. Some in the form of where his grapple propelled him from, and some in the form of his junk or flares. I must say, for a scientist/explorer this guy sure can leave a lot of crap lying around.
Even though the game is story driven, has a main plot and a sub plot, gameplay always takes precedence and focus. I have to say that by the end of the game, I really kind off hated this Uncle Fred guy. What a jerk putting his poor nephew (me) through all that danger and trauma just to find him, and then when you finally do, telling you to sod off. Because he wants to stay with the strange salamander people, which he apparently created.
Even though A Story About My Uncle is not a AAA title, nor does it sport amazing graphics, it is one of the better indies I’ve played. It’s wonderfully frustrating and wholly enchanting and a game that every platformer fan just has to play. I enjoyed the little titbits of humour that Gone North Games embedded, and the detail put into seemingly insignificant surroundings.