Developer: Gone North Games
Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios
Release Date: May 28th, 2014
Available On: PC
In 2008 we saw Mirror’s Edge, a first person parkour game with heavy platforming elements. Despite the relative popularity of the game, we never really saw much more in the way of first person platforming. A Story About My Uncle is hoping to change that. A first person platformer with heavy focus on an energy grappling hook, does the game manage to fly high or should this story be kept quiet?
As one would probably expect from the title, A Story About My Uncle is a bedtime story told by a father to his daughter about his uncle Fred. After Fred has disappeared for months the father decides to go searching for him. All he finds, however, is an “adventuring suit” that includes a grappling hook. Using this he begins a journey to find his uncle Fred. It’s a simple tale that seems to be aimed for a younger crowd mostly, which makes sense considering it’s supposed to be a bedtime story. The father’s journey is interesting and along the way he sees some interesting sights and meets a weird race of frog-people, all while telling little stories of uncle Fred’s eccentric ways. Still, I found the game’s emotional scenes to fall flat, especially thanks to the game’s particularly weak voice acting. The father sounds really monotone, like he’s either bored or unsure of his lines. Another character, a frog girl named Maddie, sounds more annoying than anything else. The ending also fails to hit any kind of dramatic notes, having a weird moral shoehorned in at the last moment and honestly coming off more stupid than heart warming.
A Story About My Uncle also suffers from inconsistent gameplay, which is a shame as I don’t think the ideas were all that bad and its heart is in the right place. I could preform super jumps or long jumps, use the grappling hook to swing from objects, and later in the game got rocket boots that allowed me to preform a midair dash. Using these few skills I found myself having to navigate across groups of floating island and large caves, trying to avoid falling to my death. The game has a bit of a learning curve to it, trying to understand when the best time to detach the hook so you can swing forward or when it was the best time to use your rocket dash, took some getting used to. In the early stages of the game I found myself falling into the pits often while I became accustomed to everything. Once I did figure out the controls I felt pretty good jumping and swinging from platform to platform. …Or at least I should have felt that way, in theory.
I’m not sure why it choose to do this, but it feels like A Story About My Uncle was going out of its way to prevent me from just enjoying the simple act of swinging around on a grappling hook. Even from the start I found myself constantly in challenges where I was waiting for something to spin, flip, rotate, or move before I could jump to it and continue to platform. In a game that seemed to be about building and keeping speed, it feels like it always wanted me to stop and wait for it to do something. A later part sees me having to avoid the gaze of the only hostile creature in the game, a big one-eyed monster, and basically play “red light green light” with it. Segments when I got to towns sees my character slowed to abysmally slow walking speeds, waiting for characters to finish up long conversations so I can get back to swinging around.
Worse is that the game has long frustrating segments where the next thing to grapple onto isn’t really clear. Hidden in corners or well below what I normally see, the game felt more like it was testing my ability to quickly spot obscure rocks in difficult locations rather than getting from platform to platform. A Story About My Uncle tries to alleviate this by putting glowing symbols onto the things I was supposed to grapple to, but if the rock is hidden behind a wall then I’m not going to see it anyway. Late in the game you need to use more than the allotted three swings to get to the next platform. You could recharge your swing by quickly using the grapple on crystals that are hanging around. The problem I found was the the game often wanted you to have some kind of pixel perfect aim on the crystals, and many attempts to recharge my grappling hook either resulted in me grabbing a nearby wall and awkwardly having to re-aim, or just flat out plummeting to my death. In a game about platforming, this sudden pixel perfect aiming just felt off. I also have to note the short length and lack of any replay value. I finished A Story About My Uncle in about two and a half hours, and once you finish the story there’s nothing else to do with the game besides replay it.
I feel like A Story About My Uncle has a good heart. It wants to try something specific and seems to have everything in the right place as it does so. It’s just that the more I went through the game I just found myself unable to stand the constant breaks in platforming or the feeling that I was playing a fast game of hidden picture. Maybe next time this story is told it should try getting to the point faster.