Version Tested: PC
Also available on: N/A
Developer: Gone North Games
Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios
Genre: First Person Platformer
When A Story About My Uncle is running on all cylinders, it achieves a great combination of fun, freedom, and effortlessness that is a joy to be a part of. This first person physics/momentum-based platformer from Gone North Games can be reminiscent of Portal and Mirror’s Edge with its sense of freedom and fast-paced jumping sections. There are some things that hold the game back from being a great piece of software, but overall, A Story About My Uncle is a fun diversion for the brief time that it lasts.
The plot of A Story About My Uncle is a pretty basic story framed in an interesting way. Your character is telling a bedtime story to his daughter about (surprise!) his uncle, who one day disappeared. Throughout the game, which features some very impressive and surreal graphics, your character will fill in details of the story and his daughter will ask skeptical questions about the things that you are seeing and doing. It is a really fun concept for a pretty tried-and-true storytelling trope (missing relative left an invention that will help you follow/find/rescue them).
Speaking of the invention, the central gameplay mechanic in A Story About My Uncle revolves around a special suit that your genius uncle Fred created. After donning the suit, your character is transported to a surreal landscape of floating rocks and tasked with locating the aforementioned missing uncle. Luckily, the suit contains a few tricks to facilitate movement between the floating islands. The main technique of the suit is a grappling beam, which you can use to fly between pretty much any surface that you are close enough to. You progress through the stages by using momentum to make sure that you can land and recharge your beam before you plummet through the clouds and (presumably) to your death below. Your suit also contains a few other abilities, such as a power jump and some rocket boots. Using all your techniques in tandem is required to move the story along and reach the end of the game.
The graphics, story, and gameplay mechanics all add to the surreal landscape. The use of the “bedtime story” framing device can explain away any odd design or plot questions. Why are all these islands floating in the sky? Why did my uncle invent a trash disposal machine that is powered by starlight? Why is standing on said trash disposal machine one of the first things you do in the game? None of these questions are a problem because they are all part of a story a father is telling to his daughter. The fantastical elements of the narrative add to the wonder of the core gameplay and really combine to make a fun and unique package.
A Story About My Uncle is a very well designed game. The graphical elements of the world around you bring everything to life and get you emotionally invested in a universe that you will mostly be jumping, swinging, and flying through. However, as great as the environments look, there are certain areas that lack that same polish. The characters you meet suffer from dead-eye syndrome, and move in extremely irregular and unnatural ways. Just as an example, at one point, I found two characters engaged in an animated discussion. One was gesturing and moving as they spoke, and the other was frozen solid. Coupled with the dead eye stare, it was a completely unnerving scene to chance across, and it ruined the immersion I had experienced in the game so far.
Graphical quirks aside, A Story About My Uncle suffers from a few other issues as well. I have mentioned the interesting frame device of the bedtime story, but the actual voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. Some of the dialogue is very stilted and unnatural sounding. Certain aspects read like bad subtitles to a foreign film (which makes sense, considering the developer is based out of Sweden), and the fact that the father and daughter have remarkably different accents continually dropped some of the immersion for me. When a game is pitching itself largely as an emotionally-driven story, those little things need to hit home or the entire package suffers.
The difficulty of the game can swing dramatically as well. It can often be difficult to judge how far away from certain platforms you are, and the range of your grappling beam seems to vary from jump to jump. The checkpoint system in the game is not the greatest either; oftentimes, I found myself repeating a much longer section than I thought was necessary just to die repeatedly at the same difficult jump. There are certain sections in the game that are very clever and well done; a section early on involving a giant cyclopean monster springs to mind. Other sections carry a high frustration level with them. I found myself more than once quitting the game because I was tired of failing the same section over and over again, only to return tension-free and make it through relatively quickly.
Overall, A Story About My Uncle is a fun diversion for a very short amount of time. The storyline will last you probably in the neighborhood of four to six hours, but there is little reason to return once you are finished. Since there is no combat, no enhanced difficulty, and no randomisation, the only incentive to return is a group of extremely difficult achievements. It does have some beautiful environmental graphics and an exhilarating sense of freedom, but it also has strange immersion quirks and some serious frustration to go along with its short runtime that make it difficult to recommend to everyone. You can pick it up on Steam for $12.99, but I would recommend waiting for a sale and picking it up then for a few hours of fun.
What are your thoughts on A Story About My Uncle? Let us know in the comments or on the forums!