Played on Windows.
Also Available on macOS and Linux.
A Story About My Uncle was suggested to me by one of my Steam friends. I knew almost nothing about it and had received A Story About My Uncle over a year ago in the Humble Indie Bundle 18. Still, I seem to have gravitated towards story-based games, so what’s the harm in one more?
A Story About My Uncle starts with the player entering his uncle’s house and finding it empty, The house is wonderfully decorated with a ton of tchotchkes in it. In fact, I had a lot of fun exploring the house because of all the items in the place and because of how many hidden easter eggs, including a youtube link, there are. Everything felt really interesting and unique and it felt like a house I wanted to explore.
From there through a number of steps you get teleported to another world and I have to be honest, I loved looking at the levels in this game. Each level is lovely to look at and fills me with wonder. A Story About My Uncle ends each level abruptly and jars me out of the trance it has weaved, but when the next level starts, I forgive it because I’m filled with a strong desire to explore the new location.
The gameplay helps with that as well. The player is given a suit that allows him to run around and jump great distances, even controlling which direction he’s falling while in midair. The suit even has the ability to “power jump”. The mobility the suit provides makes exploration very interesting because the game is allowed to build in a vertical direction as well as a horizontal one.
This is where it all begins, and it definitely has a spooky feel to it.
However, that’s not all the tricks the suit has. On the first level, you get a crystal that activates the suit’s “tether” from there you can look at any surface that is close enough and press a single button drawing your character to the point where you aimed. It makes what is an average adventure into something rather special. The ability to pull yourself up a cliffside is excellent, and the tether has limits, so aiming at the side of a cliff will only pull you to the side, getting on top of the edge of a cliff is a whole other story. That is the challenge, to use your new found superpowers, and it’s an interesting challenge at that.
The tether also can be used for momentum as it drags the player toward an object, if you release early before the player collides with the object, the player can fling themselves across chasms and gaps. It’s exciting and fun to use.
You see, when the tether’s target is in constant motion, such as a windmill, the tether will continually draw the player in, but the target will continue to draw the tether out creating continual motion and slingshotting the player to places. The rush as you ride along on these objects almost make you forget how outlandish some of them are. Many of them are just floating rocks orbiting around another rock or empty space with no connection to reality, but the experience is some of the most fun I’ve had in a game.
I’ve made the tether sound exciting, but is it as good as it sounds? Well within the first look I called myself spiderman, and I’m having trouble coming up with a better comparison. It’s as if someone stuck a web shooter on my character’s hand and I’m web-slinging around the environment. While it doesn’t have the range I’d really want, or the fact that it immediately starts to retract after making contact, it really does feel like you are swinging on a web just as Spiderman would, and that feeling almost never goes away in the game.
There’s even a point where you get an additional tool, a pair of rocket boots, in the game, and from there you feel more like a Marvel character, only this time you can fly. It’s more Tony Stark’s Mark I model, than a true flying hero as they only give you a small boost, but that boost completely changes A Story About My Uncle and makes you feel even more amazing in mid-air if that’s possible.
The villages in the game look great.
With all these tools, the question of what is the gameplay about comes up. The entire game is about finding out where you should go next, usually by finding a common mark that tells you your uncle has already been there. Then you have to find points to sling yourself to or from and from them to execute a plan that eventually requires three tethered shots and sometimes a rocket boost to get where you want to go next.
A Story About My Uncle does a great job of showing you the pathways. The levels are well laid out and there are only a couple of levels that I had trouble with. The marks your uncle left are rather big clues, but once in a while they look reachable but are not. As I said before every level made me want to explore it but even as I did, there’s usually one clear pathway from each point and from there you can clearly know where to go next.
The levels themselves are great, however, the final level… well, it’s rough. The game gets too clever requiring precision that wasn’t asked from the player previously. It’s a constant request as well, not just one or two hard movements, but almost every jump in the final level is significantly harder than any jump requested previously. In addition, there are crystals that will recharge the number of tethers you have but you are also asked to hit them in mid-air, and quite often there’s less than a second to target the crystal and then target what you need to swing to next. It’s a very tight timeframe and doesn’t make the game as enjoyable as the rest of the game.
In addition for some reason, the game stops giving you the rocket boots for part of the level and then returns them to you again in a story moment that’s clearly there for a gameplay element. It’s a shame because the rest of the game worked well and never felt like it abused the story for a new challenge. Here in the last level it’s an unnecessary challenge that’s thrown together, and it doesn’t seem to work.
Still, I was able to pass through it relatively quickly, it just was the most gamified level in A Story About My Uncle. It just doesn’t feel like it fits as well as the rest of the experience. By the time you reach the final level, you should feel quite accomplished but that final level seems to delight in just finding new frustrating ways to annoy the player.
Just a little earlier, this level is filled with life and enjoyable challenges.
There’s also the idea of collectibles in the game, and those can be interesting to discover. The collectibles make a little sound like a clicking when you are near them and from that you can locate where they are. I didn’t find many of them in my game though and didn’t feel a need to go back and collect them all. If you are a collectible hunter, there are five of them per level and most are fairly well hidden.
So we come to the story. Honestly, the story in A Story About My Uncle is flawed. It starts off interesting and sounding like we’ll have a sad twist or find out the story is in someone’s head. It just has all the marks of a manipulative story.
As A Story About My Uncle progresses you find fantastic villages and even a frog person friend named Mad Maddie who assists you for part of the way. It’s actually a bit charming. Just as the world make you want to explore more, the story makes you wonder what you’ll find next.
Sadly, the storytelling doesn’t even tell a story. It tells a number of events that don’t form a coherent narrative, and are just things that happen to the player. It’s a simple story and maybe not even a true “Story” at that. When I reached the end, I found a lack of a twist, just an odd list of things that happened around you and to you. Even Maddie appears and disappears and it feels like she has very little purpose to the story except giving the player someone to spend time listening to.
I won’t spoil the ending except to simply say that there’s just not that strong a story for the player to experience….
While writing this article I looked up other people’s opinions on the story, there’s an interesting theory out there about the story. It’s worth playing A Story About My Uncle before reading it, but as I write this review, I start to realize more and more that the theory fits and there’s likely a second story that happens in the game.
But it brings me to a big point. There’s an idea of a story throughout the game. A Story About My Uncle seems to be ashamed of its story or it doesn’t attempt to tell it. The game clearly has an idea that everything in the other world is something thrown away in the original world. Ok, if that’s the case, it’d be an interesting twist. But nothing confirms that piece of the story. There are clear hints that while your Uncle is gone for six months, but he seems to actually be clearly gone for multiple years on the other side. Again, never actually discussed, just hinted at.
The fact is there’s a story here that A Story About My Uncle doesn’t seem to want to tell or deliver beyond just the outline, and I can’t tell you why. Those are all story pieces that aren’t even related to the fan theory, it’s just story chunks that aren’t fleshed out or developed or addressed, and the real problem I have with A Story About My Uncle is there’s no reason they can’t confirm or develop any of these elements. They just choose not to. Its story avoidance, except the name of the game is “A STORY About My Uncle.” Tell us a full story, not pieces of a narrative that don’t connect well.
All in all, I have a feeling the fan theory is the correct interpretation of the story. But sadly that’s not good enough to redeem the story, as the clues to the fan theory are mostly hidden away in an alien language that needs to be decrypted to even attempt to read it. If this is the story the developers wanted me to judge the game on, it’s so hidden that I had to have someone else tell me every piece of it. I didn’t even discover a single piece of the “true story” myself. I can’t give the game any credit for that.
One observation I’ve had on the game while playing it is the achievements in this game are quite challenging. Most of them seem to be about limiting the number of tethers used or completing levels without falling once. Neither did they seem that interesting for me to chase after, so I ended up with only a single achievement earned in the game.
So that’s A Story About My Uncle, and the story part of the game is a big problem for me. As much as the feeling of swinging through the air when it exists is enjoyable the story doesn’t leave me in a place where I’m happy about that part of the game.
Yet that motion and momentum along with the tether are fun. Even when I get very frustrated at the crystals in the last level, I still think about all the fun I have had leading up to that level and the experiences the game gave me.
It’s not a great game, but it’s better than a good game and I can recommend it pretty easily just from the gameplay side of things. That means there’s an obvious score for it….
Final thoughts. Lacking the story in the name, it still has fun gameplay that draws comparisons to Spiderman. It’s so enjoyable to traverse the game and explore the levels that you might be able to ignore the story.
Stats: 7.4 hours played, 1/16 achievements