There’s nothing like a strong story. From the pantheon of myths and legends to the Shakespearian tragedy, through to Agatha Christie’s crime-solving capers. Anyone who read any of those works can tell you there’s an art to crafting the perfect narrative, and that’s what Storyteller is all about, an idiosyncratic puzzler from Annapurna Interactive and Daniel Benmergui all about telling tales the way you’re supposed to tell them.
As someone who loves a solid third act and intelligent exposition, I had to ask if I could take the Storyteller review for Pocket Tactics. It’s a game I’ve been looking forward to for a while now, with the mix of narrative puzzle gameplay and storybook graphics à la Hans Christian Andersen perfectly aimed at my wannabe novelist sensibilities. So, I flicked open the first page and jumped wholeheartedly into tales of fantasy, fallouts, and family feuds.
To start, let me explain how the puzzles work in Storyteller. Each individual puzzle is a page made up of four, six, or eight empty action panels. Along the bottom of the screen, you have scenario options, like ‘wedding’ or ‘death’, as well as individual characters. Using just a prompt above the empty boxes, such as ‘Detective Arrests Murderer” or ‘Eve Dies Heartbroken’, you have to put the pieces of the story in the correct area to move on to the next.
The design of the game is the highlight here, with the illustrated characters animated for each scenario providing some light entertainment through reactions alone, especially when you get the tale mixed up. Despite all the different genres, Storyteller manages to make Adam and Eve, a 1900s detective, and Prince Charming all feel like they belong in the same game world. There’s inclusivity too, with nothing stopping you from pairing up storybook partners from the same genders, unless the specific story dictates characters in certain scenarios.
Admittedly, the puzzles in Storyteller can be pretty simple to solve. It wasn’t until the halfway mark of the game that I came across something that stopped me in my tracks, then once I solved it, I didn’t find another challenging tale until the final gauntlet of longer stories. In fairness, the core concept doesn’t much lend itself to difficult challenges, but it means you power through 90% of the content with ease, perpetually waiting for the scale of the challenge to expand.
Still, as a concept, it’s pretty interesting. Through ten chapters, each with three or four stories per chapter, you go through different genres and styles, finding nuance in each along the way. The detective element is particularly enjoyable, especially after you’ve had your fill of tragic love stories and retold fairytales. Still, there’s a problem. Just as you start properly engaging with Storyteller, and just as the tales begin to get a little more difficult to weave, the game is over. 100%. Thanks for playing and tell your friends.
Now, I’m not going to get into the whole debate as to how much a game is worth compared to how long it takes to play it, everyone has their own opinions and I’ve played shorter games than this with higher price tags. The problem is that some of those games engage you from the very beginning, whereas Storyteller doesn’t up the tempo and fully make use of its idiosyncratic gameplay until very near the end. I hate to say it, but this does leave me feeling a certain way. It’s as if you’ve ridden all the kiddy rides at Disney Land and just as you go to queue for Space Mountain, you find out that all the coasters are out of action that day.
What I should say is that if you’ve any interest in narrative concepts, if you’re like me and have spent far too long and too much money on books explaining character building and story structure, the two-to-four hours of fun are just about worth the admission price and you’re essentially guaranteed to enjoy the experience, even if it never really tests you. However, I don’t know how much entertainment value there is here for non-narrative nerds, with this puzzler often feeling too straightforward to keep the cogs of your brain turning.
All-in-all, Storyteller is a quaint puzzle game that does something interesting, it just doesn’t do enough of it. Still, the fact that you’re wanting more just as the credits roll means there’s some success here, it’s just that the difficulty arrives too late and ends suddenly. So, if there’s more to come from the tale of Storyteller, I hope it’s something more epic in scope, as this short story has me wishing I could flip just a few more pages.
For more on the latest titles, check out our Atelier Ryza 3 Switch review, Bayonetta Origins review, and The Wreck Switch review. Or, for a story you haven’t heard before, check out our Omega Strikers interview with Odyssey Interactive or our Yoko Taro interview.
Storyteller has an alluring concept and some great visuals but doesn’t engage you fully until it’s almost too late. While providing some laughs and including some solutions that modernise fairy tales and tragedies for today’s audiences, the puzzle aspect doesn’t boggle the brain consistently enough for my liking.