A Story About My Uncle may not seem like the greatest name, but it turns out to be a very interesting and adventurous game. This game is about a young boy and his Uncle Fred. The boy, now a father, tells his daughter a bedtime story about his wild adventures. You explore this mystical world, discovering new places, creatures, and sights, all the while staying on your main objective. Find your Uncle. Even though there is a linear story guiding the gameplay, it still feels like an exploration game. Whether it’s hidden collectibles or finding your Uncle’s secrets, the game succeeds at making a linear game feel multidimensional. Here is how the devs at Gone North Games do it.
It is pretty well known that if a game doesn’t have a developed or branching story, it can get very boring, very quickly. A Story About my Uncle’s story is good but it is simple and not very long. To keep the players interested, the game includes a “branching” storyline. I put branching in quotes because it really isn’t branching, but more so little additions to the story. Throughout the game, you may find side paths, leading to new places. These are set apart from the main goal, and tell a more of the backstory. For example, you may come across your Uncle’s old campsite, breaking into an afterthought about your Uncle’s favorite food. These little additions normally aren’t much. However, it’s just a bit more, making the gameplay and story feel more dynamic. You start to get a sense of your purpose, your connection with your uncle, and the connection with the world you are in. Without the side exploration, the game would start to feel stale and meaningless.
Building onto this point, the level design actually plays a major part in the exploration. Your main tool, the grappling hook, leaves a distinct symbol on anything it touches. As you progress, you can see all the symbols left by your Uncle’s hook, giving you direction and guidance. But, these symbols are only on the main path. When you find yourself looking at a secret island, you will notice that there are no symbols to help guide you there. This is where the exploration aspect comes in, as you must figure out yourself how to get there. If they were marked, it wouldn’t feel like exploration at all. To me, the feeling is similar to Harry Potter sneaking through the trap door to find the Sorcerer’s Stone. You can see the unexplored islands and know that you don’t need to go there, but inside you really want to. By showing areas visibly as unexplored, it heightens the sense of discovery and desire to find the world’s secrets.
What I also like about how the devs did exploration is the various collectibles. Like the feathers of Assassin’s Creed or the Dragon Priest masks in Skyrim, A Story About My Uncle has data stations. These are devices which your Uncle has spread about to collect information about this mysterious world. When you get a certain number of collectibles, you can unlock the game’s unlockables, such as Beam Color customization, Goat Mode, and Acrobatic Mode. The unlockables don’t actually make the game easier, and some of them are pretty corny. But, they encourage exploration. Those “100% completion” people out there love these kinds of things because they make the game bigger than normal. Again, you don’t need to get a single one to finish the story, but just the thought of them triggers that desire for exploration.
For a game with a simple and linear story, A Story About My Uncle does well at keeping players entertained. The devs do this by using various exploration elements, like collectibles and side paths. They may not be complicated or useful, but it makes the game just a little bit more fun. Good exploration is hard to do in a story game, but I think A Story About My Uncle did a great job.
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