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Platform(s): Android, Nintendo Switch, PC, iOS
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Daniel Benmergui
Release Date: March 23, 2023


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PC Review - 'Storyteller'

by Cody Medellin on March 22, 2023 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Storyteller is a unique and creative spin on the puzzle genre in which players are given a variety of iconic characters, settings and emotions to build tales of love, betrayal and revenge.

Anyone can make up a story. Whether they choose to write one out professionally or as a fan, turn it into a video, or simply imagine it and keep it to themselves, stories are universal to us all. Turning the act of storytelling into a game seems like a natural fit, but Daniel Benmergui and Annapurna Interactive have gone a step further and turned it into a charming but brutal puzzle game called Storyteller.

The premise behind the game is that you’re presented with a storybook and asked to complete the stories within. You have a prompt to give you a hint of what the story should be about, but no words exist on the page. Instead, you’re given what amounts to a near-wordless comic. You have a set amount of panels to tell the story in as well as set locations and characters. Your job is to place the backdrops and characters in the given panels in a way that helps the prompt make sense. For example, you might be given the prompt, Seeing the Ghost of a Lover. You’ll have Eve and Adam as your characters, backdrops of Love and Death, and three panels to work with. 

This is one of the first batches of puzzles you’ll encounter, and the solution is pretty easy. Panel one has Adam and Eve in a Love backdrop. Panel two shows the Death backdrop with Adam grieving and Eve on the tombstone head. Panel three goes back to the Love backdrop, with Adam now seeing a ghostly form of Eve. If you try to skip panel one and go straight to two and three, it won’t work since Adam won’t know why he’s there and has no reason to grieve.

That’s just one solution to the puzzle. Another would be to have Adam and Eve switch places where Adam is dead and Eve is in mourning until Adam’s ghost appears. That is perhaps one of the secrets as to why the puzzles seem so appealing. There are a limited number of solutions to each puzzle, and it has to make some kind of sense for it to work, but the solutions are rarely strict. Unless the prompt is calling out for a specific character, anyone can be used in any manner, and the game is fine with it. Recognizing this, the game also has a few alternate scenarios once you’ve solved the main one as a form of bonus goals. For example, you may be tasked with healing a broken heart, but completing that puzzle opens up a prompt to heal a broken heart without seeing anyone die. It’s a clever twist on things, and while it isn’t applied to all of the puzzles, seeing it appear when you’ve solved one puzzle gives you a creative kick to try alternate paths to the goal.

There’s always joy in solving a puzzle, and you’ll certainly get it here, as the back half features some pretty fiendish head-scratchers that ask you to get far more creative to achieve the goal. This doesn’t just apply to the big eight-panel puzzles, as those shorter in length can get tricky since you don’t have as much room to reach a sensible conclusion. Yet the other hook the game provides is humor. Correct solutions often provide nice animations and visual cues to convey the emotion of the scene, but the same applies to incorrect solutions as well. Going back to the Adam and Eve example, going straight to panel two without panel one produces a confused Adam with a question mark above his head and a shoulder shrug. Other scenarios may include ghosts that either express indifference or scares, depending on who they’re appearing with. Murder scenarios simply turn to annoyance if the weapon goes missing, while heartbreak can instantly turn to love and vice versa if you mix up the panel and character order. Just messing around with things to see the various possible reactions is fun in its own right due to the reactions, even if the solution you come up with is completely wrong.

The humor is heavily influenced by the presentation. The simple sketches make everyone look like adorable cartoons, while the actions give everything a little oomph. From the Xs over the eyes of someone who got shot to the look of shock as someone is falling to the scowls of annoyance and so forth, each reaction naturally elicits a laugh, even if the situation is dire. Amplifying this are the sound effects with gasps, gunshots, broken hearts and the like coming through sharply to elicit the right reaction. The music is a calming medley of classical pieces that works well for the storybook theme, while the lack of voices accentuates the illustrations and animations to explain the scenario.

If there’s one complaint to be levied at the game, it would be its length. Not counting the bonus goals that appear, there are 51 stories to go through, with only a few of them spanning the maximum length of eight panels. Most of the tales are short and, as stated before, it gets difficult in the back half of the game. The developer stated that it should take an average of three hours to defeat, and we came close to beating that estimation if it weren’t for the final two stages being absolutely tricky to figure out. If you’ve played the demo, you’ll notice that some of those scenarios aren’t here, so it feels like there could've been more thrown in for a longer game. It’s one of those issues where DLC or any kind of update that adds more levels would be highly welcome so you have incentive to keep playing.

Based on the presentation, it should come as no surprise that Storyteller is a good fit for the Steam Deck. Although there are barely any options to change in the options screen, what you’ll get here will give you four hours of gameplay with a full charge. Frame rate hits 60fps, but this isn’t the kind of game that needs high frame rates since so few things are animated. The gamepad works well here, but those who want to use either the touchpads or touchscreen will find that the game also feels comfortable using these methods. There are no real issues on this device.

Storyteller is both a very good puzzle game and an excellent source of humor. The scenarios are a mix of pieces from classical literary works, but their simplified nature makes for some head-scratchers, even for those mildly familiar with the works these were inspired by. The simple animations and illustrations are captivating to look at and make everything naturally funny. You will wish that Storyteller were a longer experience,l but if you’re good with the short playtime, you’ll have a ton of fun with it.

Score: 8.0/10

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