need to know
what is it? The final form of a 2008 browser game about storytelling and puzzle solving.
Expect to pay: TBD (£12.49 on Switch)
release date: March 23, 2023
Developer: Daniel Benmerji
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
commented on: RTX 2070, i7-10750H, 16GB RAM
multiplayer game? No
Association: Official Website(opens in a new tab)
Storytellers pose difficult questions drawn from time-honored narrative structures and tropes. As a high-spirited teller, it’s your job to work through these story skeletons to see which ones stand out, allowing you to add characters and concepts until you’ve crafted a story that lives up to each puzzle’s title.
In the comic world of Storyteller, any story can be told in three to six panels, eight at a time, and it’s your job to figure out how to do it. For example, maybe the title is Eve Dies Heartbroken, and you have two scene types to play, a wedding and a cemetery, and two characters, Adam and Eve. Place the wedding scene and put Adam and Eve in it and they fall in love. Put the cemetery on the next panel, put Adam on the tombstone, and he dies. Lay Eve by the grave, yes, she is sad. Now the third group left is for Eve to complete the task.
(Image credit: Daniel Benmergui)
From that basic beginning, the story gets more complex, sly, and hilarious. For example, what if you put a third character in a wedding scene with someone who is already married? Well, the married party will reject their new suitors, leaving them either heartbroken or scorned. At least until later puzzles introduced an affair scene, in which you could turn a spouse into a liar, or even have another character witness an illicit tryst while hiding in a nearby bush.
Of course, love, betrayal, and jealousy fuel many of these stories simply because they are such timeless themes, and Storyteller takes you on an exciting journey through fiction, from fairy tales to detective stories, from Shakespearean tragedy to gothic horror. But at the same time, it lives up to conventional expectations, with delightfully flexible results. While each character has a specific desire or trait—for example, a baron in a knightly tale, a plot to usurp the throne—the roles are often interchangeable. So, in a classic love triangle scenario, why shouldn’t two women marry and live happily ever after?
This flexibility also allows Storyteller to fine-tune its comedic muscles by spiraling up into silly “what ifs,” as in the courtly romance titled “Everybody Rejects Edgar,” where the hapless hero desperately struggles with what he can. Anyone who finds it takes a chance, just to learn that they’ve said it in order. This willingness to indulge in the extremes of established settings is equally intoxicating in mixing revered classics such as Austen with soapy trash, as in the case of Edgar dying (poor Edgar) leaving his wife Lay Nora’s story, only to come back to life and find out she’s married to Isobel.
(Image credit: Daniel Benmergui)
However, the fun of Storyteller isn’t just its solutions, it’s the process itself. Often, you need to think backwards from the ending you’re trying to achieve and ask yourself, for example, what made Isabelle want to poison Edgar when there was no initial animosity between them? In some cases, the solution involves careful manipulation of the pieces, considering what each character knows and feels about each other, and how to change their minds. To its credit, the game almost always maintains a tight logic, with clear intentions and effects.
Even better, because of this logic, sometimes the most fun you can have is indulging in pure trial and error. Storyteller’s design is fun, but some of the deepest laughs it elicits come as a side effect of experiments gone wrong. The beauty of its system is that simply swapping the order of scenes or swapping one character for another can have unforeseen ripple effects, such as the version of the Frog Princess story that ends with two frogs kissing, or the heartbroken Lay The tragedy of Nora drank the poison and died, then came back to life, realizing she was still heartbroken, and drank another bottle of arsenic.
Another reason such moments are so successful is the game’s flawless visuals and interface. Building a plot in Storyteller is just a matter of drag and drop, and when you drop characters into a scene, they react without blinking an eye, whether that means instantly falling in love with the person who confronts them, or pushing them off a cliff . Or watch how the innocent statement “I’m your mother” suddenly turns into a shocking revelation as you move pieces around in the game’s burlesque Oedipus the King.
(Image credit: Daniel Benmergui)
Storyteller’s blocks are so much fun to play with, in fact, you might find yourself devouring them right away. Solving all 51 puzzles, plus some bonus objectives that require you to reach certain conclusions in different ways, takes about two hours, after which there’s not much to do but close the book. Still, if you buy into the fascinating idea of a game lasting 120 minutes before it ends, you probably won’t have any complaints.
Except, it’s hard not to feel a little overwhelmed when the credits roll, and even accept how many years it took developer Daniel Benmergui to get it to work so beautifully and consistently. That’s partly because some concepts aren’t explored enough, like the monster chapters that introduce vampire and werewolf characters and their special behavior patterns, and then drag them offstage after a few stories. But more than volume, the problem is that Storyteller doesn’t really build anything climax or deep. It just stops.
Of course, its creative system does offer some interesting ideas to peruse, such as what makes a story succeed or fail, or how a story subverts apparent iron laws. But those themes are visible for the first ten minutes, like in last year’s demo, and don’t kick in as you progress. In contrast, other short puzzle games like Gorogoa or Unpacking don’t feel interrupted as they go to a conclusion, which Storyteller never does. For all of the game’s core genius about storytelling, and precise execution, the one thing it’s missing is telling its own story.
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