[Review] Stories Untold – Nintendo Switch

Written by Abram Buehner
  • Developer: No Code
  • Publisher: Devolver Digital
  • Release Date: 16/01/2020
  • Price: $9.99 / £8.99
  • Review code provided by Devolver Digital

The Devolver Digital seal of approval

At this point, I think I’d trust Devolver Digital to create my stock portfolio. For those unaware, Devolver Digital is the publishing house behind some of Nintendo Switch’s very best and most creative titles, ranging from Ape Out and GRIS to Katana Zero and My Friend Pedro. This team truly has an eye for hidden gems and has assembled a lineup of games from some of the industry’s most talented studios. Much like the Nintendo Seal of Quality in the NES days, being a Devolver Digital game on the eShop means something—it’s a guarantee that whatever you’re about to purchase, no matter how strange it may seem, is going to be a high water mark for whatever genre or genre-fusion this respective title decides to take on. The only question, it seems, is when Devolver Digital is going to fumble. The answer, of course, is not yet—as the recently released Stories Untold is one of the most engaging and genuinely surprising narrative experiences on Nintendo Switch.

Scarily good storytelling

Forged by the minds at developer No Code, Stories Untold is a bite-sized anthology of four, horror-themed vignettes that all function within the confines of distinct, visual motifs and atypical gameplay conventions. While each installment of the anthology operates differently, they’re all strung together with a synthetic, moody soundtrack and retro aesthetic that work elegantly to further the horror atmosphere that Stories Untold attempts to reproduce. To that effect, the game succeeds—at least in terms of what I find interesting in horror. The scares are almost entirely psychological, with very few instances of disturbing imagery or jump scares being used to elicit a fear response in the player. While I was seldom scared during my playthrough, I did feel an omnipresent sense of dread which certainly deepened my immersion within Stories Untold.

Beyond aesthetics, Stories Untold’s successful atmosphere is developed through the game’s fragmented narrative. I’ll be speaking about this aspect of the title from a top-down level, as I believe the story is best experienced blind. That said, there is little to critique here, as the writing is sharp and the scenarios are engaging, even if they rely on archetypical plot setups a bit too heavily at times. And, for those who worry that the stories being told in the form of vignettes may leave the game feeling disjointed—wait until the final chapter. The team at No Code managed to pull off one of the most subversive and revelatory storytelling twists that I’ve encountered in quite some time, and when the pieces fell into place, my enjoyment of Stories Untold increased tenfold. Again, no spoilers here, but just know, the payoff for seeing this game through is gleefully harrowing and visceral.

Eclectic interaction

For as enrapturing as Stories Untold is from a narrative perspective, its gameplay is less solid overall. As previously mentioned, the gameplay is an amalgamation of disparate genre elements. Across its four chapters, Stories Untold features point-and-click puzzle solving, first-person exploration, and text-based adventure elements, and largely, this blend works well. Constantly rotating between mechanics helps bolster the game’s atmosphere in the sense that it keeps the player off-balance, never allowing you to truly become comfortable with any of its systems before moving onto the next set of mechanics. Besides, they’re all tactile and interesting, even if they never get particularly deep. In the current marketplace, text-based adventures and point-and-click puzzlers aren’t that common, so they certainly feel fresh from an interaction standpoint.

They also feel fresh in terms of the way that they further narrative immersion—particularly the text-based portions. These lend the story a sense of intimacy and player agency, making the narrative something that you shape and engage directly with, instead of being a passive strand of the experience which intertwines with the gameplay. This harmony is especially effective considering that each vignette is about the length of a TV show, meaning that there is little fat on the bone, and the mechanics function for the sake of progressing the narrative. As such, for the most part, the gameplay in Stories Untold feels tight and to the point.

I say, “for the most part,” though, because this isn’t always true. Certain mechanics, particularly in the third vignette, feel overly cumbersome. Even the text-based adventuring at times feels unrefined, as the input commands to progress can feel far too specific. These moments of frustration led to blips of trial-and-error as I fumbled around for solutions, which certainly put a dent in the otherwise smooth and calculated pace of the experience. For a game with such razor-sharp design and storytelling, these moments of mechanical clumsiness felt especially out of place, and they took me out of the experience.

The bottom line

That said, moments of frustration or the occasional breach of immersion are far from the standard. The overwhelming majority of Stories Untold is enrapturing. This is one of the cleverest and consistently engaging narrative adventures on Switch, and one of the most mechanically unconventional. In a word, Stories Untold is subversive. Through its short runtime, the game remained constantly dynamic and fresh, and I couldn’t tear my focus away from it. This is another big win for Devolver Digital, and an even bigger win for Nintendo Switch owners. Do not let this one pass you by.

Pros

  • Subversive, enthralling narrative
  • Great writing
  • Interesting mechanics
  • Excellent aesthetic
  • Tight pacing

Cons

  • Occasionally clunky gameplay

Verdict

Stories Untold is an essential narrative-driven experience on Nintendo Switch. Subversive and engaging, any horror enthusiast looking for a gleefully haunting and brilliant tale should keep this title on their radar.

4.5/5

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