This may come as a surprise, but A Story About My Uncle was the first game I ever heard described as a ‘non-violent first-person platform adventure’, and as soon as I heard that description I was excited by the prospect of what that could mean. Portal without the constant harassment by GLaDOS? Flying through the skies with a sense of childlike whimsy and without worrying about being horrifically attacked? The possibilities were great. As it turned out, I managed to work out how to predict how much someone was likely to enjoy ASAMU by boiling it down to a simple question: how much do you like to grapple? If the answer is ‘so very much! I could grapple all day!’ then (spoilers for the direction of this review) this may very well be the game for you. If not, you might be in for some frustration.
The game is experienced from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who is telling his daughter a story from his own childhood, in which his favourite uncle disappeared without a trace and he decided to go searching for him. Apparently, because this uncle was prone to wacky disappearances, the fact that he was essentially a missing person wasn’t of any concern to anyone, but it did make it convenient for his nephew to go on a solo mission through an underground world to try and track him down. In wacky Uncle Fred’s abandoned house, our protagonist finds a strange robotic suit that seems to have been designed exactly for him and allows him to do just that – gallivant through the darkness on his epic quest. I should make it clear at this point that by ‘gallivanting’, I mean grappling, and by ‘epic’, I really mean ‘irresponsible’. But of course, that sounds far less whimsical.
I’m being harsh, but in all fairness this game really does feel like a bedtime story. As you grapple through caves of slightly differing climates, the narrator talks about the uncertainty and growing fear of what might be ahead, and the voice acting does its bit for the most part in building tension at a satisfactory pace. Unfortunately, it all starts to feel a little drawn out as you fling from grapple to grapple, and it quickly begun to feel like each little piece of the story I was being given served only as an attempt at an excuse for more grappling. Rather stunning graphics and a pleasant soundtrack weren’t enough to stop this game from feeling like it was trying to be longer than it needed to be to tell the story it wanted to tell, even after the introduction of a new set of characters halfway through. Revealing too much about them would be spoiling a story that really should be experienced in full, but I will say that while they spiced the story up a little, they also acted as fuel for my nightmares. I think it was something about the eyes, but… see for yourself. Maybe it’s just me.
Again, I return to discussion of the grappling. At first, I made the grave mistake of trying to play this with a laptop mouse, but quickly realized that wasn’t going to cut it. I did, however, expect that switching to a proper mouse might make things somewhat easier and less nausea-inducing, and I honestly didn’t find it helped that much. Most of the grapple points throughout the caves in ASAMU are quite small and require precise aim to attach to them, which is difficult to master when you’re also flying through the air and trying to adjust the camera angle. It’s possible that I’m just particularly bad at platformers, or first-person games in general, but I didn’t find the mechanics to be particularly forgiving, and given that the gameplay was quite repetitive I soon grew quite tired of the whole thing. There just wasn’t enough reward or variation to warrant punishing myself with further dizziness in order to continue, and I should admit that I nearly gave up more than once. Of course, if unlike me you have actual skill when it comes to platformers and you don’t have ridiculously terrible depth perception (that I wasn’t aware I had until I tried to play this game), you might find this to be the wonderful, whimsical, flying-through-the-air-with-childlike-joy experience that I hoped it would be.
In the end, I have to conclude that ASAMU feels like a game for children. Very, very patient children, of course. The narrative is engaging and appropriate for a younger audience, and I do imagine there could be a genuine sense of wonder that would envelop you if you played through this without the overwhelming air of frustration that engulfed me through my whole journey. Plus, the soundtrack and visuals of what I would now like to call Endless Grappling 2013 do come together to create a beautiful atmosphere in which to grapple. I’m just not sure that it would be worth playing this if you weren’t primarily into it for the grapple extravaganza.
Select Start Media was given a review copy of A Story About My Uncle by Gone North Games.