REVIEW: A Story About My Uncle

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Where do I begin about this first-person platform adventure known as A Story About My Uncle? I saw it was a first-person platform adventure game and I thought, “That’s interesting blend…mixing platformer with adventure and making it first-person.” After all, VALVe Corporation made it relatively work with Portal and Portal 2 (both of which are more along the lines of puzzle-platformer, but I digress).

In A Story About My Uncle, you play as an English-speaking Swedish boy (evidenced by his uncle’s house being in a snowy location and the fact that Gone North Games is based in Stockholm) who visits his uncle’s house to find his uncle nowhere to be found. The game’s plot is told as a bedtime story by the now-adult boy to his young daughter (despite speaking English, you can hear accents in almost everyone’s voices). He finds a strange power suit that fits him perfectly and sets off to find his uncle in a far-off land via a sort of energized launch pad. By way of the suit, the boy can’t get hurt from falling and uses an energy beam from his right glove like a grappling hook. These all integrate into the platforming aspect of the game as you traverse wide rivers, deep chasms, and (seemingly) bottomless pits in pursuit of the boy’s uncle. Along the way, you can discover notes and evidence of some experiments that the boy’s uncle was doing, including frog eggs. Said frog eggs eventually developed into what I dub as homo amphibia, or frog people. The first of the frog folk you meet is a girl named Madeline, or Maddy, who helps you look for the boy’s uncle, who she looks up to as a sort of father figure rather than a close friend as she tells the boy.

The gameplay was really solid for a platformer. As I went back through each map, I discovered new shortcuts to travel through in the extra “time trial” mode, although the gold medal times still leave me wondering how one would could traverse the entire map in such a short amount of time. You get to use the powers of the suit to make these really cool powered high jumps up cliffs and long jumps across lengthy gaps. Eventually, you come across an upgrade for your suit: rocket boots. These things can be handy in a pinch but utter hell if you’re looking in the wrong direction when they fire. The environments were beautiful (at least the outdoor scenes) and I stopped a couple times to really take in the view before continuing on my way. If you know what you’re doing, you can really feel the flow of running, jumping, and swinging through the maps. However, the game does come with its faults. There were some times where the level was ridiculously unfair. One particular part was towards the end of the story, when you have to cross a zigzagging cavern that’s filled with nothing but breakaway stalactites and the only real way to cross it was by quick pointing at the next target (which is a lot more difficult than it looks and sounds) while using only two charges on the gauntlet per swing (using the third prevents you from shooting a crystal to restock on charges, leaving you to freefall into the pit below and starting over from the last checkpoint). Needless to say, I swear I had to do this particular part over at least twelve times before finally getting through it on what I’d call a stroke of luck. There also isn’t a whole lot to the story either, I’m afraid, because when you [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS]. The entire game can be played through in roughly four to six hours, not counting the time trial versions of each level, so in that regard, I really wish there was a lot more to the story than everything that I experienced. It does, however, give you one last playable epilogue for some final closure, but again, I wish there could have been more to the story.

Beyond this, A Story About My Uncle was very enjoyable, and the fact that it was a platformer in first-person view made the jumps and whatnot that much cooler to do (I could imagine the wind blowing in my ears as I soared through the sky). The game’s worth a look for a playthrough, but not much else unless you want to continue running the time trials to beat the game in a faster time. Pick up this game for $12.99 on either Steam or GOG and give it a go.

Verdict: 7/10 (Bite It and Leave It)

+ Breathtaking environment || + Platforming makes you feel like you’re soaring

= Very noticeable accents in some of the voice overs if they were trying to speak perfect English

Some frustrating areas leave very little room for error || – Very short and can be played in a single afternoon

REVIEW: Outland

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I’m not so much into platformers unless it has anything to do with Commander Keen. So when I found out about Ubisoft‘s 2011 XBLA/PSN platformer title, Outland, which was recently ported to PC, I was actually intrigued by the story. Basically, you play as a man who has dreams of the past and he goes to his shaman to take medicine in order to relieve his symptoms. Instead, the medicine proves ineffective. The shaman tells the protagonist about a battle that happened roughly 30,000 years prior to the events of the game. The world was threatened by the Sisters of Chaos, one who controlled the Light of the Sun and the other the Darkness of the Moon. They sought to destroy the world and make it their own from within the Temple of Eternity. A hero from the old times defeated the Sisters and imprisoned them, giving his life in the process. The shaman reveals that the hero’s spirit dwells within the man, as the Sisters have escaped imprisonment and threaten to destroy the world once again. You control the new hero as he travels the world to gradually unlock the old hero’s powers in order for him to defeat the Sisters and the four Guardians they corrupted (The Golem, The High Priestess, The Mother of Eyes [a gigantic spider], and The Winged Serpent).

Among two of the powers you unlock are the souls of Light and Darkness. These allow you to swap between them at will, which comes in handy given that the game is filled with areas where you need said immunities to cross the map. Being attuned to Light (blue and white) grants immunity to Light energy attacks and being attuned to Darkness (red and black) grants immunity to Darkness energy. The immunities do not, however, give you immunity to any physical contact, be it with enemies, their weapons, or spikes. The game gives a great amount of guidance, as there’s the presence of these white and black butterflies(?) that act as directional pointers to your next objective. There is, however, a lot of backtracking, and I mean a lot of backtracking. As an example, one area of a map will have a gate that can’t be unlocked until you have the appropriate power unlocked later to reach it and its corresponding switch, and to get that power, you have to cross at least two or three areas to find it, thus causing you to back up all the way to the point where the gate was after finding the shrine with the necessary power. Also, if you’re not a huge fan of repetition and/or not terribly great a platformers to begin with, be prepared to fall a lot. The one good thing that comes out of this whole falling business is the fact that the new hero is able to catch ledges. Other points for the game come from the scenery (which is amazingly beautiful) and the music (very soothing 😀 ). One of the most frustrating points of the game was the boss fight against The Winged Serpent. Spiked bombs fall everywhere endlessly until you can find space between them to reach the Serpent’s head when the time comes to finish him off. Otherwise, if you die, you gotta start the whole fight over. Another frustrating point that took away some of the experience was the final fight against the Sisters themselves. You fight on rings of platforms around them with only a Launch Pad to save you if you fall; if not, you lose a point of health (represented by green hearts). I fell a lot, then, too, especially since some of the targets I had to smash were outside of the furthest ring of platforms.

Overall, Outland was fun in spite of having to deal with a somewhat weird setup for the keyboard (abilities were tied mainly to the keys U, I, H, J, and K). I don’t know if this was a leftover bug or not, but the PC port had me shoot an energy beam (tied to K) every single time I unpaused the game, forcing me to waste a whole orb of magic power. On top of that, I found that chaining key presses in rapid succession to clear a particular segment of the map sometimes failed, which added to my frustration annoyance the more it happened. Beyond all of these flaws, the game was enjoyable but great for a single playthrough unless you want to hunt down every last collectable in the game. If you wanna take a look at it, the game’s $9.99 on Steam, but since it’s from Ubisoft, no doubt you’ll likely need uPlay to run it.

Verdict: 7/10 (Bite It and Leave It)

+ Beautiful scenery and great soundtrack || + Good and relatively simple story

= Repetitive falling may be an annoyance if it happens frequently

Lots of backtracking || – Sticky controls (sometimes buggy) on the PC port if you don’t use a controller

REVIEW: The Novelist

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When I looked at the synopsis for The Novelist, I gotta admit, I was hooked by the question it posed: can you achieve your dreams without pushing away the people you love? From my viewpoint, I give what I consider the right answer: no, you can’t.

Kent Hudson, the brains behind the game, has you play as a ghost of sorts that inhabits a woodland cabin where the Kaplan family spends the summer.  There are two way to play the game, essentially marking them as the game’s difficulty system. “Stealth” mode is the default setting of the game, where you have to hide and possess the light fixtures around the house as long as they remain powered (as you play, the Kaplans will start to turn off some lights, eliminating possible jump points). “Story” mode eliminates the difficulty of trying to hide, as it makes you permanently invisible to the Kaplans (think of it as “easy mode”). Between these two difficulties, they don’t really impact gameplay a whole lot, as it all depends on whether you want to have that risk of being seen or not.

As a ghost (of sorts), you also have the ability to enter the memories of the Kaplans (who consist of titular character Dan, the novelist father trying to work on his latest book; Linda, the wife who reveals in writing that their marriage is very unstable; and Tommy, the young son who struggles with reading at school). Inside each member’s memories, you have to uncover clues about each of their lives and to help them to the best of your abilities. If you’ve enabled stealth, you can’t allow yourself to be seen by any of the Kaplans. I found out how that works when Tommy spotted me in the conservatory and tried to follow me as I made my getaway out the door, around the corner, and possessing a lamp. If you allow yourself to be seen for too long, you spook that person that spotted you and you lose the option of compromising with that family member as a result. Luckily for me, that never happened.

What makes this game connect to the players is that it reflects the nature of real life. There isn’t enough time to do what everyone wants and to make them happy about it. I won’t reveal any major points, but I will say that in my playthrough, I realized that making those sorts of decisions was incredibly hard. I felt bad at some points because of how upset and lonely Tommy felt, but I tried to juggle all three Kaplans’ needs. In the end, I did what I felt was right and inspired Dan to do the best he could with his book. However, I had him pay the ultimate cost: making his book succeed is never worth destroying his family over. I won’t play through the game again to see all the outcomes so as to not ruin the great feeling of satisfaction I got through my one and only trip, but I will say that The Novelist created a great atmosphere and had excellent character development. Although the graphics aren’t the best, I think they don’t have to be utterly spectacular to tell a good story. The game was on the short side, as you can play through the whole game within about two hours (more if you’re a completionist and explore every last combination and outcome).

Overall, The Novelist is a good adventure game that connects to its audience in some way or another with its story on conflicting interests between family and career. Give this game a look! It’s $15 on Steam.

Verdict: 8/10 (Sink Your Fangs)

+ Great story with wide variety of choices and outcomes || + Simple mechanics

= Little variation in difficulty; depends on whether you want to risk being seen or not

The game is short, even for playing through all combinations and endings || – Relatively simple graphics