A Story About My Uncle
- Original Concept: Summer 2012
- Final Game: May 28th, 2014
Developer: Gone North Games / Coffee Stain Studios
What’s the Premise?
To say it in a very redundant manner, A Story About My Uncle (referred to after this as “ASAMU”) begins with the voiceover of a father beginning to tell his young daughter a bedtime story about his uncle. For the duration of the game the player navigates through the father’s story from a first-person perspective, playing through the narrated events in real-time. The setup for the story is simple: your uncle is missing. While searching through his workshop for clues as to his whereabouts, you stumble upon newspaper clippings about the discovery of new microbial life forms, stacks of books and papers about quantum physics, a specially designed “power-suit”, and the plans for a mysterious “disposal system”. Wouldn’t you know it: before the intro is over your character puts on the power suit and steps into said mysterious disposal system and is transported to a mysterious faraway land…
Originally created and released in 2012 by a team of nine students from Sweden’s Södertörn University, ASAMU was redesigned, remastered, and expanded for its re-release in May 2014. It’s a short game made by an independent studio. Calling it a one-trick pony wouldn’t be a stretch, but don’t take that as a criticism. The one trick it has; first-person platforming; is done very well and the developers wisely paced the game so the core mechanics didn’t become stale. And it helps that there’s a bit of heart contained in the game’s story.
Why Should I Play This?
Three words: Joy of movement.
Heavily influenced by the first-person and (mostly) combat-free games like Mirror’s Edge and Portal, ASAMU creates an experience where the journey is more fun than the destination. Why walk, drive, fly, or teleport anywhere when you can instead strap on a power suit and use an electric tether to fling yourself between points? It is admittedly an answer to a question that nobody asked, but considering how much fun it is: who really cares where the question came from?
The aforementioned power suit is the game’s way of giving you special platforming abilities, of which there are three:
- Long jump / high jump – this is charged by holding down the right mouse button and will result in either a long forward jump or a high vertical jump, depending on how you’re moving when the jump is initiated.
- Power grapple – this allows your suit to “grab on” to certain distant surfaces with an energy leash which will then pull you toward the object you’re connected to. When your suit is upgraded, you have the ability to grapple three times while in midair. The ability to use the grapple is “recharged” only after landing safely on the ground.
- Rocket boots – Boots with rockets on them. Holding down the spacebar while in the air will ignite the rocket boots, giving you and extra boost in whichever direction you happen to be facing at the moment. Like the grapple, this ability is recharged after landing safely on the ground.
It’s a combination of movement that’s difficult to fully convey via text. Hopefully this .gif will do a better job of demonstrating how the long jump and grapple abilities can be combined:
Though viewing the game in motion may help convey what the experience is like, the sensation of flinging yourself over seemingly bottomless chasms is best experienced firsthand. The mechanics and perceived physics of motion are done extremely well. Controls feel intuitive, and though there aren’t necessarily dire consequences for missing a jump and falling into the void, the combination of visual and aural effects turns a missed jump into a gut-wrenching moment. Close calls that end well generate a palpable sense of relief, and you may find yourself backing away from the keyboard for a moment to steel your nerves before attempting the next set of maneuvers.
Levels are linear, and with one exception there’s only one path to take in order to make progress. The developers wisely took a page from the book of Mirror’s Edge, and use subtle color cues to guide the player through the irregular game world.
Quite conspicuous at first, the visual cues will become more subtle later in the game, ultimately forcing you to find a path while you fling yourself under a cliff face and only one missed grapple from falling into oblivion.
The game seldom hold your hand and puts a pressure on you to navigate the levels on your own, trusting that the level design is clear enough so as not to lose or confuse the player. It works – most of the time. There are a few segments in the game where you’ll fling yourself in a randomly chosen direction, furiously trying to grapple onto something-anything in hopes of finding what seems to be the secret way forward. I think there were maybe three or four parts where I had to resort to YouTube to find what I missed. In some cases my struggle was self-inflicted; I missed what should have been an obvious visual cue.
The two most frustrating moments I experienced came about because the game doesn’t have a great way to demonstrate the effective limitations on the grapple and the rocket boots. In one segment I could clearly see that I was supposed to grapple past three floating rocks, and then use the rocket boots to make my way to a distant platform. The issue is that since every jump you make is either pass or fail over a bottomless abyss, there’s no real way to anticipate how far the rocket boots will take you or how close to an object you need to be in order to lock the grapple onto it. If I were to replay the sequences again, I think it would still take a measurable amount of luck for me to clear them.
The art direction is vibrant and definitely pleasing to look at. It’s done well, if a bit derivative; it reminded me of Na Pali from the first Unreal with a few helpings of Avatar tossed in here and there.
Tips for New Players:
- Try to plot out your route before making the initial jump
- Don’t give in to your desire to click frantically when trying to grapple something; odds are you’ll waste grapple and have to redo the section
The Final Raving – Qualified Endorsement
While it’s not for everyone, if you have an interest in similar games (Mirror’s Edge, Portal, even the platforming elements of Assassin’s Creed) this one might be a good fit for you.
A Story About My Uncle is proof positive that small games developed by indie studios have a place in a AAA world. It makes me look forward to future releases from Gone North Games / Coffee Stain Studios
- Fun platforming gameplay that generally works very well
- Almost unparalleled for exhilaration of movement
- Vivid art design
- Occasionally frustrating moments
- If running time trials isn’t your thing, $12.99 might be a bit steep for a 3-hour platforming campaign
- While there isn’t much of it, the NPC character animation is quite dated
None. Built in the Unreal Engine, this should work fine on all modern gaming PCs.