Action is a huge part in almost all game genres as of late, meaning that developer after developer are happy to trudge out tired cover shooters, or even the ever popular fps shooter, essentially throwing enough mud at the wall until something sticks. Yes, of course there are fantastic games in the action world, otherwise there wouldn't be the compulsion to repeat but every now and then it seems evident that some titles have great exploration sections or puzzles to solve which unfortunately to only make up 10% of an otherwise bland affair wrought with death and destruction. This is why A Story About My Uncle intrigued me so much. Created by Gone North Games, a small operation coming from Stockholm, ASAMU promises from the get go to deliver a non-violent, first person platformer. I immediately thought of something akin to Portal and to my surprise, I was right yet so wrong. In a good way of course.
The story opens with a father, tucking his young daughter in to bed, before giving in to her demands of a fantastic bed time story, and so he proceeds to retail her with a tale about (you guessed it) his uncle. The story goes that the boys uncle is a wild genius, inventing left right and centre wonders for the world, his most recent being a launch pad which teleports rubbish away from the earth. One day, when the young lad goes to visit his uncle, the house is left empty, with only a strange mechanical suit left behind and the urge of course to stand on that glowing pad.
Something that grabbed me from the begging was not only that the game blends narrative and gameplay in such a natural way, but also that it serves to send you in no direction what so ever. Theres no pointers, maps or instructions. Rather you just go where you feel you should and arrive conveniently enough, exactly where you should. Its almost like the greatest combination of open world and linear interaction all going on at the same time.
As you would imagine, the glowing pad, or rubbish shoot whichever you'd prefer, send you off into another dimension, which looks simply beautiful. Starting with moss covered caves, going out into towns which could just as easily fit into a Bioshock game with buildings created from the so called ‘rubbish’ that our world discards and blimps flying through the sky across windmills made of card and paper. You’ll even end up in some rather majestic, glowing mines. Filled with crystals, difficult platforming sections and a rather unique incident with a huge worm.
The mysterious magical suit left behind presumably by your uncle, allows you to use a beam of energy as a grappling hook and swing from platform to platform, which starts of as a simple task but soon becomes more of challenge that needs some thought. You only have one chance to grapple and if you miss, thats it.
As you move further into this rather lovely story, you’ll unlock more gadgets to play around with. Your grapple will be upgraded, allowing you the opportunity to grab surfaces 3 times before you run out of chances, along with rocket boots which give you a short burst of speed or height, depending how you use it. Its once you unlock your full utility set, and the chance to refill your grapple by using one shot on some energy charged crystals, that the game really comes into its own. Forcing you to think carefully yet plan on the fly as you combine boosts, grapples and some carefully aimed gliding in order to reach your destination.
You’ll go charging off of cliffs to make huge leaps across space, grabbing onto floating rocks and using their momentum to shoot yourself around the map and possibly more often than not, missing your target and plummeting into the misty void that awaits below.
It's a testament to the team as the only reason the idea works so well is because its executed with tight controls and smooth animation, making this some of the greatest first person platforming you're likely to experience. This is again highlighted in the lack of guidance offered by the game, some clever and rather excellent level design means that you're free to explore while small nods to the correct direction allow you to confidently just do. No thinking, just go charging off the cliff, take that leap of faith and that feeling is truly fantastic, it's the spirit of exploration and adventure in its purest form!
One of the hardest challenges that hit me really hard was trying to traverse a long tunnel with no floor at all.Sharp reflexes and a hell of a lot of tries meant that I could navigate this devious tunnel by swinging from hanging rocks, one by one, while occasionally taking a plunge in a search for crystals to recharge my grapple.
ASAMU is so well crafted in fact, that all of the danger essentially comes from your own lack of confidence or slowed reflexes. You’ll die a large number of times simply from mistiming those swings or using the rocket boots to late. Concentration is key here, explore, be bold but fix your plans as you go.