Developed By: Appnormals Team
Published By: PQube
Category: Puzzle, Adventure
Release Date: 9.12.18
Stay for the Nintendo Switch is a pixel-based point-and-click inspired adventure game from the studio Appnormals Team. It purports to have some new gameplay ideas that, if it delivered upon, would be pretty darn cool. The problem, unfortunately, is that the game suffers immensely from half-delivered gameplay promises – but I can forgive ambition. What I can’t forgive is the worst protagonist in any game I have ever played, ever. EVER.
Doctor Quinn, Medicine Whiner
OK, that subtitle is a bit harsh considering the predicament in which Quinn finds himself. But not by much. Starting at the beginning, Quinn is the game’s main character. The story starts when he goes to bed ruminating on some dark stuff. A shadowy figure shows up and abducts him in the night, spiriting him away to a dark room with an old computer as its only source of light. The computer, somehow, is connected to you, the player, via a chatroom. Thrust into this uncomfortable situation, you must gain Quinn’s trust and help him escape his captor. Sounds simple, right?
Playing the game has two components; trading texts in a chatroom and solving puzzles Quinn encounters as he moves through the house. Chatting is pretty simple; it’s pretty much a visual novel style setup. Quinn sends you his thoughts and feelings, and you occasionally offer a response or suggestion to move the story along. Depending on your response, it affects his mood, his trust in you, and the feeling of friendship between you. It’s a pretty cool mechanic in theory, but in practice this is the most frustrating part of the game; and possibly the most frustrating mechanic in any game I’ve ever played.
The problem is that Quinn’s responses to your suggestions seem almost to come at random. At one point, he asks you whether or not to open a refrigerator he has found. OK. He goes on and on about how hungry he is. So you tell him to open it and see if anything looks safe to eat. He gives you crap about how he’s not starving yet so he doesn’t need to eat, and anyway the fridge is giving him “bad vibes.” Then why all that stuff about being hungry? So then you get two more choices; have him open it anyway and have him ignore it. If you have him open it, it turns out that the door is electrified and he dies. If you have him move on, he complains that you don’t listen to him and you lose trust and friendship points and put him in a bad mood, which makes him more prone to dislike your suggestions even more. Later on, you come across another item giving him “bad vibes,” but the right choice is to interact with it, and not interacting with it leads to another death. The game, and your interactions with Quinn, often feel impossible to get right without having done them before. Trying to “read” Quinn’s mood is completely useless; the metrics you are given to understand him are never explained, and they don’t seem to alter his actions in any way whatsoever either.
From a realistic standpoint, sure, this all makes a kind of sense. Quinn’s in a tense situation and he can’t control his emotions. From a gameplay standpoint, it’s garbage because there’s no pattern to it. The game tells you to read Quinn’s mood and learn his preferences, but he contradicts himself constantly. In a different medium this sort of narrative would work better, but in the context of a game it’s just supremely frustrating. The game frequently strongly hints that one course of action would be best, then punishes you whichever choice you take. I mean, I get the whole unreliable narrator aspect of things, but at some point for a gameplay mechanic to work there must be a standardized pattern to something to establish it. So while I suppose it may succeed in whatever its goals are as a work of art, Stay’s narrative mechanic is a total failure as a gameplay element.
I looked at a lot of different reviews for Stay after completing a playthrough; most of the negative ones seem to agree that the puzzles are too hard. I don’t really feel that way; certainly, the puzzles are challenging, but at least every puzzle has a structure. It took me some time to figure that structure out on most of them, but at least there’s a logic to all the puzzles. The game doesn’t go out of its way to provide any hints, but all the information you will need is on the screen (except the map puzzle. You’ll need Google for that one). That being said, the puzzles are exceptionally hard, but not nearly as frustrating as dealing with Quinn. Seriously, I HATE QUINN. If I wasn’t reviewing this game, I’d have quit and left him to die after fifteen minutes.
Pixels and Sad Music
The brightest spot of Stay is, ironically, its very dark visual aesthetic. The pixel-rendered graphics are a great throwback to classic point-and-clicks. The backgrounds are detailed and the darkness that enshrouds them builds a very creepy ambience. Most of the game happens through a chatroom interface that can be pretty monotonous to look at by the end, but it never bothered me that much. The music is somber and sad and builds a great atmosphere for a suspense game as well. I just wish the game it’s supporting was worthy of it.
Stay has no touch or motion controls, so you can play it docked or undocked as you prefer. There’s nothing to recommend it one way or another, although the game recommends you play it undocked with headphones to increase your feeling of isolation when playing it.
TL;DR: A solid premise and extremely challenging puzzles undermined by a poorly designed narrative mechanic.