For as much as I hated the prospect of having to sleep as a child, the allure of a bedtime story almost completely put the displeasure of ending a day out of my mind, replaced with a rapid interest in what adventure I would hear about that night, which regardless of how flimsy the tale may be always held a sort of fantastical quality to it. A Story About My Uncle is itself a bedtime story, albeit one not constrained to mere words but created in vibrant detail allowing you to explore it for yourself while still retaining that magical quality that only comes from a friendly voice telling you a story before you inevitably shut your eyes.
While the title may lead to believe differently, ASAMU actually focuses on the titular uncle’s nephew; a daring young lad who, taking after his uncle, has an endless curiosity about the world around him and an irresistible urge to explore it. So it would stand to reason that upon visiting his uncle’s workshop and finding it empty, save a small futuristic suit in just his size, that he would strap it on and set out to find where his uncle has made off to.
Aside from the quick opening taking place in a setting resembling the one we ourselves live in, ASAMU is firmly planted in a marvelously imaginative world of its own creation. Huge floating rock structures populated with glowing foliage and villages of frog like inhabitants paint an enchanting local to explore, or simply admire from a standstill for its beauty. For as straightforward as the narrative is, the further I progressed the more intrigued I became about the place I was exploring, and longed to learn more about what had sparked all of it into being.
Unfortunately, ASAMU hasn’t anywhere near enough time to explore everything it presents before you, or in fact touch on anything for more than a brief moment before the end is before you after only 2-3 hours. It’s incredibly disappointing because developer Gone North Games achieves so much in this time in getting me interested in the world and lore it created, but ends the experience well before it has a chance to expand on any of it leaving me with a distinct lack of closure. It’s like having an amazing dream, and just as you’re beginning to get into it you’re woken with a start and no matter how hard you try can’t find it again.
When you art admiring the locals (or deploring their brevity), you’re soaring through the air using the prior mentioned suit, the abilities of which grant you an incredible amount of agility. The foremost of these is a grapple ability which lets you grab ahold of structures and use them to propel you forward. Combined with a super jump and sprint ability this creates an exhilarating means of travel, making you feel like a parkour running that’s made off with the claw from Bionic Commando as you rush through levels swinging from point to point. When you get into a flow it feels like little else I’ve ever played, and has me wishing more games attempted to do first person platforming this way, but here is you come up against a bit of a roadblock.
While the tools to string together grapples and jumps are all within your hands, you’re shackled with severe limitations on how you can use them which quickly turns to frustration as you find yourself repeatedly falling into bottomless pits. You are given a set number of grapples you can perform before landing, but levels are designed in a way that requires you to take a specific path through them jumping and swinging at just the right moment, essentially removing all form of experimentation from the player. There is so much potential here that for the developers to make such an easily remedied mistake is a huge shame, and one which greatly diminished my enjoyment of the game. I’d have even accepted an unlockable cheat which removes these limitations, as being able to traverse levels without constantly having to plan each moment out would feel incredible, but instead the mechanics hurt themselves by over restricting the player and taking away a lot of what could have been an amazing platforming system.
Even had it not come from a small studio, I would have been very impressed with the graphical work achieved in the environments and especially the sparse use of color to outline paths and present a contrast to the various areas you visit. Though largely taking place in caves, each level feels entirely distinct to itself, from the suffocating darkness of a deep chasm to the breathtaking vistas of a world existing above the clouds. Almost every moment offers an amazing view, made all the more exciting by the speed you typically move through them, and the fact it was accomplished by an indie developer makes it even more unexpected.
I do wish I could say as kind things about the voice acting, which unfortunately is among the worst of any game in recent memory. Full of awkward inflections and strange pauses, the cast does a rather poor job masking the fact they are almost certainly not native english speakers, and the strange disconnect between them and what they are saying makes it hard not to groan whenever someone opens their mouth to try and deliver a line. I don’t mean to be so hard on a group that seems to at least have tried really hard to give a good performance, but I can’t gloss over the fact that it’s just abysmal all around and had me tempted to turn it off entirely and get by on subtitles alone.
A Story About My Uncle is a hugely ambitious game for an entirely new developer, which almost inevitably didn’t manage to quite hit the mark. It’s riddled with flaws from almost every angle, which when piled upon each other make it a rather hard sell. Poor voice acting, frustrating gameplay design, and a shockingly brief length left me wondering if I could really recommend it to someone else. But for all its faults I still enjoyed the experience, for reasons I find hard to put into words. There is just something inherently charming about all of it, and perhaps I wanted so much for its mechanics to succeed that I kept going despite my annoyances. I can’t speak for others, but I suppose a lot of it harkens back to my love of bedtime stories in general, which no matter how lackluster they were I ate up with a ravenous desire for more.
In a lot of ways A Story About My Uncle left me feeling the same way as most of the stories I was told growing up; not entirely displeased with what I got, but saddened it had to end so soon.