A Story about my Uncle has the constitution of a mod: it’s pretty but sparsely so, interesting but buggy, and as a showcase for the qualities of team, it is a great start. All signs point to a bright future for the game’s makers, but A Story About my Uncle feels distinctly like a first effort. That is not a bad thing, in fact it’s a very good thing, but it won’t be as worthwhile an experience for its consumers as for its creators.
The hook is that this is a story of a father’s childhood that he is now recounting to his young daughter. As a young version of the father, the player explores the home of their uncle, who, incidentally, is a mad scientist that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near small children. I say this, because after a short bout of exploration you come across a kid-sized jetpack-grapple device that was clearly designed for you, and has a 100% chance of killing whoever puts it on. In no time at all you’re being blasted off into sky, and find yourself stranded in another dimension.
These opening moments make it clear that having an express narrative was important to the game’s designers, and in broad strokes of the story it is fine, but is ultimately left wanting. The game doesn’t have an dynamic narrative moments, it goes: level, talk, level, talk, and without anything interesting to say the whole thing feels like its playing in 4/4 with no percussion. It is supposed to be a simple bedtime story. And it is.
What’s most disappointing is that the art direction is solid (although it could have done with less caves) and that individual aspects of the story are intriguing but underdeveloped. For example, the first humanoids you encounter live off garbage your uncle tosses out, which sets up a number of possibilities to discuss science vs. agriculture, or science as divinity, but the premise doesn’t extend into either territory. In some ways it feels like Dad is giving a book report and doesn’t really ‘get’ the book, or can’t really remember how it happened — except even that would have been a more interesting way to deliver the story.
Most of the game is made up of first-person platforming. Using your handy-dandy duo grapple-jetpack you bound into the sky and hookshot between platforms. It is not a freeform jumping playground, which is to say that most of the routes have very specific targets you can latch onto that take you to very specific landing zones. Restricting things further, the player has a limited number of time they can latch themselves to a floating rock before they need to touch solid ground again. Figuring out how to traverse a route isn’t so much a puzzle as it is vigorous trial and error.
The restricted design leads to some heart-pounding last minute manoeuvres; it’s very difficult to save yourself from plummeting into oblivion, and when you do it feels great. However, the lack of flexibility in how you get from point a to point b —and the precision you need to hit floating targets as you barrel towards them in the sky— makes most of these split-second saves feel more like dumb luck, rather than mastery of the game’s mechanics. Falling and catching yourself is thrilling, but it’s a small moment in a several hour experience.
The trouble with all of this is that the game doesn’t stand out. It has the folk-fantasy finish of something like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and it strives to have momentum based platforming in the vein of Mirror’s Edge, but it doesn’t succeed at being as charming as either. What’s here is promise — not proof of concept. There is evidence of creativity and vision, but not nearly enough to justify a whole game. It wears its heart on its sleeve, and for that I wanted to love it, but it doesn’t find a way to make good on its potential.
- This is one of those moments where I really hate having scores, but I really can’t recommend the game.
- I DO, however, think there could be some renewed appeal with VR tech.
- Art direction is a bit all over the place. There are some spots that feel ripped right out of World of Warcraft (similarly to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning), but the game’s first two areas feel very much their own.
- Pro tip: Mouse/keyboard — not controller.
- I spent way too long trying to work KZ_map into this review, only to realize I’m way too fond of KZ maps for the comparison to make sense.
- I mean it when I say I’m ecstatic to see what Gone North Games cooks up next.