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AN UNTITLED STORY / Matt Thorson / PC
An Untitled Story is a game by Matt Thorson, who has made several games for the Adult Swim website like Give Up Robot and Fat Wizard. We've also looked at two of his previous works here -
, which I didn't really care for, and
Runman: Race Around The World
, which I liked a lot. It's important to know a little bit about this guy and the type of games he generally makes, which are largely super-hard platformers along the lines of I Wanna Be The Guy and the stuff the Mario rom-hacking community puts out.
Now, I don't want to bash Matt, I've only played a few of his games, and Runman was pretty boss. And he gives nearly all his stuff away for free. I'm pretty sure he released this one not necessarily expecting it to become the Toast Of The Indie Town, just putting it out there for his usual fanbase, who undoubtedly are into the niche market of Super-Hard Platformers. But a bunch of the sites and forums that cover indie games really picked this game up and took off with it, just recommending it willy-nilly as one of the best freeware indie platformers ever ... but forgetting (or just not bothering) to add the caveat that this is by one of those Super-Hard Platformer guys and you really have to enjoy Super-Hard Platformers to get anything out of it. Unfortunately, there's little here for anyone else, and the resulting game is just too inaccessible and demanding for a broader audience.
The game has an intentionally vague setup; you play as an egg who can roll around and jump, and decides to roll out of his nest and go see the world. For quite a while at the beginning, there's really no story. The structure of the game is basically a Metroidvania, you just roll and jump where you're able to, and find power-ups that let you reach even more areas. I guess it's really more Metroid than Vania, as there's no levelling up to speak of, the challenge instead comes from lots of demanding and finicky platforming and jumping segments.
A challenging game is fine, but there's a few problems here. One is that playing with the keyboard makes it next to impossible, so you need a gamepad. I have a reliable Saitek that works with nearly everything I throw at it, and this game auto-detected it at startup ... but then forgot about it as soon as the actual game started! I could never figure out why this was, and there's absolutely no tech support or anything like that whatsoever of course. I ended up using Joy2Key as a workaround, but it really didn't get me and the game off on the right foot. While we're on the subject of technical glitches, the game also likes to randomly take itself out of fullscreen mode into some tiny window for no apparent reason sometimes, but other than that it ran pretty smoothly.
The next issue is the rough presentation. Some people call it "charming", but I dunno. It just looks like MS Paint scrawls done due to lack of an artist or to save time rather than a meaningful aesthetic choice to me, honestly. I can deal with that, I mean the game looks alright and the animation is fine at a basic level, but the music is absolutely atrocious. It isn't just bland and boring, it's actively atonal and irritating. Just poorly structured, weird instrument choices, the most obnoxious MIDI sounds that could be dug out of the catalogue, etc.
But who cares about all of that if the gameplay is solid and it delivers hours of Metroidvania exploration fun? Well, see, that's where the difficulty issue crops up. First of all, you can't save just anywhere. There's only limited save points scattered around, but the game doesn't even bother to explain what the hell they are or how to use them, so you'll probably miss the first few of them before digging around on the internet to find out how the hell long this game expects you to go without saving. Now, "save rooms" are a standard Metroidvania convention, so it's not a big deal by itself, but these things can be pretty few and far between. This forces you to not only replay long stretches, but those stretches are often filled with finicky, demanding, fiddly jumping segments that resemble shit from I Wanna Be The Guy, sometimes even with a couple of boss battles tossed into the mix. And you rarely get to refill your health, so death comes more swiftly and often here than it does in the standard Metroidvania.
There's some thing about an ongoing story and a Dark TWEEEEST at the end that's supposed to drive you onward, but seriously, every indie platformer since Braid seems to pull this "cute platformer with a DARK SECRET" shit and it's really getting old at this point. Between that, and the demanding fiddly Mario Rom-Hack-esque jumping all the time, and the primitive MS Paint look, and the ear-raping atonal music, I gave up after about an hour and a half's progress, and not once during that time did I ever really have much desire to find out what was going on with this game's story or even see what the egg hatches into. I know a lot of people on the interbutts will tell you the exact opposite, but for me, there was just no compelling quality to it at all, it just mostly felt like a chore to get through. Honestly, had this game been released by a commercial publisher back in the 16-bit era with all of its insistence on not explaining anything and punishing fiddly difficulty, we'd probably be watching it on Angry Video Game Nerd at some point.
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