Stories Untold Switch Review: Crossing into the Fifth Dimension
It's hard not to think of The Twilight Zone when playing No Code's Stories Untold. Rod Serling's seminal series is a clear inspiration for the adventure game.
From the stylish, recurring opening credits sequence to the twists that you can't see coming, these anthological tales blend the real world with horror, science fiction, and the supernatural, making Stories Untold a proud homage to Twilight Zone and its decades' worth of descendants like Night Gallery, The Outer Limits, and more.
I'd honestly be satisfied with a game that unabashedly delivers a one-to-one conversion of those shows brought to games, but No Code does more than it needed to. By using its inspirations as a foundation, Stories Untold builds something new and fascinating, and with any luck, it will inspire new games like it for years to come.
Stories Untold Review: Crossing into the Fifth Dimension
Stories Untold is divided into four short stories, each running about 30- to 40-minutes long. The game is advertised as an anthology but marketing materials have not hidden the fact that the final episode ties them all together. This finale tie-in is supremely well done, though each episode stands alone pretty well too.
Narratively, each feels a little incomplete, like you're waiting for the other shoe to drop in the fourth episode, but if you somehow manage to never play the finale, you would still be mostly satisfied from a story perspective; the three earlier episodes are all vastly different and wonderfully weird.
It also helps that Untold's gameplay mechanics vary so greatly from episode to episode. The premiere plays out like an old-fashioned text adventure horror story. The middle episode has you running an intricate experiment on a human heart. The third episode — my favorite of what I hope is only a first of many seasons — stations you in a snowy research outpost decrypting numbers station signals. I'm choosing not to discuss the fourth and final episode to avoid spoilers.
Each of these is fitted with dated analog technology like microfiche, early x-ray machines, and dilapidated desktop PCs. It's the player's job to scan all available information no matter which episode they're in and resolve a number of details-driven puzzles. The puzzles will always feel foreign and weird but never less than intuitive, giving players a stream of "aha!" moments in great supply.
Combined with a synthwave horror soundtrack, there are definite shades of Stranger Things here. But Stories Untold is much darker than the Spielbergian Netflix stand-out. It's apparent the Duffer Brothers and No Code have a similar appreciation for the nostalgic dread felt in horror's yesteryear, but the latter group of creators pulls fewer punches and the end result is a more mature and cerebral plot that remains just as binge-worthy.
As Stories Untold is a Switch port of a PC game from a few years ago, we already live in a world where we've seen No Code's follow-up. The opposite of a sophomore slump, 2019's Observation builds on so much of what Stories Untold does well, namely atmosphere, pacing, and seriously thoughtful puzzles that come by way of these ancient-feeling devices.
It's a unique aesthetic to double-down on, but for that reason and so many more, I hope this is truly just the first season of Stories Untold.
There are few downsides to the game, but one that comes only to Switch is the game's tiny text and difficult-to-maneuver puzzles when the game is played in handheld mode. As someone who almost exclusively plays Switch on the go, including during my review time with this game, Stories Untold can be a strain.
There is a zoom function at all times, which definitely helps, but that function is also a bit unwieldy itself. I have good eyes and didn't have many issues, but I'm sure others will struggle more with it.
Similarly, some of the puzzles that require adjusting the dusty dials to specific levels often feel imprecise on the Switch, leaving players to over- and under-shoot the target several times before finally landing on the right number of joules, the desired radio station, or whatever else you're fidgeting with on your commander center of crusty computers.
That's an issue that isn't resolved by playing on a TV like the small text too. It'll always be a part of the Switch version of Stories Untold which makes it a slightly lesser version of the game. Having said that, it doesn't drastically affect my impressions of an otherwise marvelous and creepy adventure game.
Stories Untold Review — The Bottom Line
- Strong atmosphere with great music
- Intuitive, challenging details-driven puzzles
- Fascinating anthological storytelling with a finale tie-in
- Small text and precision-needy UI don't translate well to handheld mode on Switch
Stories Untold is a unique adventure game smothered in atmosphere. Switch players will have to contend with the port's less-than-ideal UI, but provided they can get over that relatively small hump, the rest of the game is an unsettling, intelligent, fourth-wall-breaking success.
Either from No Code or those whom they inspire, I hope we get many more games like Stories Untold.
[Note: A copy of Stories Untold was provided by No Code for the purpose of this review.]