A Story About My Uncle - Brutal Backlog
Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team plough through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best titles will stand up to scrutiny today.
Starting as a free demo developed over the course of three months by a few college students, A Story About My Uncle was given a full release in May 2014. The first-person platformer is named quite literally, with the plot just being a tale about the main character’s uncle and your quest to track him down. A Story About My Uncle was a strange addition to my Steam library, as I don’t remember buying it or getting it as a gift. Even going as far as to check my purchase history, I didn’t find a single piece of information on how I got the game. As far as I can tell one day this game popped into existence from nowhere and sat collecting digital dust until this review.
Twenty Minutes In
The game’s intro is a slow burn for the player, which starts by exploring your Uncle’s abandoned lab at a snail’s pace. Even though your character moves at the same speed as a tortoise sifting through molasses, this intro scene does a good job of setting the stage and tone for the adventure you’re about to go on.
The entire game has a dream-like, almost fairytale feel radiating off of everything from the story to the setting to gameplay itself. This charismatic flow begins right away, with the narrator telling a fantastic tale about his uncle as a bedtime story to his daughter. The story focuses around an adventure that the main character went on one day while searching for his missing Uncle Fred. This is added to by the easter eggs that are scattered across the first level, for example part of the script for the narrator in pages scattered on the floor of your uncle’s lab.
The narration is gentle and charming, even meandering at times. As you progress through the game, the narrator gives his account of what’s happening on screen to his daughter, all while she asks questions about the adventure and her great uncle. Hidden collectables scattered across the game also impact the narration and stories that are told. It’s great fun to come across a bowl of frog eggs or a campsite littered with junk food that launches the narrator into a tangentially related memory about his uncle.
Once you hit ‘Sanctuary’, the first platforming level of the game, it’s like the player character took off his weight vest to reveal his true power. Each stage has you sprinting and leaping through the air, zipping and grappling around with the goal of getting from point A to point B, island to island until you reach the end of each level.
A Story About My Uncle is Mirror’s Edge if Faith Connors was replaced by Peter Parker. While there isn’t a lot of variety with the movement so far (the only options are running, jumping and grappling around), what options there are blend so well together no other options are really needed. The game lets you live through the dreams of parkour that you always had but were too scared to try for fear of breaking your back. ‘Sanctuary’ adds the first shake-up to the platforming midway through the level by giving a second charge on your grappling hook, which could until that point only be used once per jump.
One and a Half Hours In
After completing the tutorial and getting familiar with the game’s core mechanics, new elements get introduced to shake up the basic formula. A third charge on your grappling hook, rocket boots, and crystals that recharge your grappling hook in midair all add variation to the platforming so the gameplay never gets stale. The only portion that’s frustrated me so far is Maddie’s Challenge where Maddie, a resident of the strange world you have to venture across, dares you to complete a portion of the game without using the grappling hook. The challenge is completely optional unless you can’t stand an NPC talking smack about you in a video game, and it was handily the most difficult section of the game.
Speaking of, the NPCs in A Story About My Uncle are the only element that have not aged well at all, and may not have looked great by 2014 standards either. Even though there is only one you really interact with and the rest you talk to for a maximum of one minute each, they all look and act like rejects from a Chuck E. Cheese knockoff restaurant where all the animatronics are frog people. Aside from muttering unintelligible gibberish as you walk close, these dollar store Na’vi only exist to give the world a bit of life, and don’t speak or interact with the main character at all minus a few cutscenes. The only exception to this is Maddie, a character you meet towards the beginning who sticks with you for a majority of the campaign.
As for the plot, everything in the game feels rushed (unsurprisingly so, as the game is incredibly short) so it was difficult to get fully invested in the characters. Maddie, your only companion on your journey, goes through her entire story over the course of three levels, so it was difficult to connect with the character when her narrative arc was finished in less than an hour, and all her development was told and not really shown. The player’s goal throughout is tracking down your missing uncle, and everything you encounter over the course of the playthrough is similarly told to you as you experience it just to hammer it in and make sure you understand.
One fun little tidbit I found out about while playing is that this game is ridiculously short. I finished the main story in about two hours, and while it was never boring, I wish A Story About My Uncle lasted longer than an afternoon’s play time. While the game was a blast, the actual story about your uncle takes a hard backseat to the gratifying gameplay.
The game’s replayability comes in the form of time trials and new modes earned through getting collectables in the main story. If you do a perfect run of a level the way it was intended, hitting every jump the game lays out for you, you won’t complete the level in time to get a gold medal. Not only does nailing difficult jumps, clearing sections without dying, or discovering a new way to skip through part of a level feel slick as hell, they are a necessity when doing a time trial. When you get good at running through each level and manage to get gold, you’ll feel like a god.
If you’re looking for fantastic gameplay and don’t care too much about the story, definitely give A Story About My Uncle a try.
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