For many of us, the fantastic tales of knights and dragons, love and loss, and brave heroes overcoming all obstacles are the ones that made us fall in love with storytelling. However, as we get older and life grows more complex, so do the types of stories we yearn for. Although the hero's journey may serve as a foundation for countless tales, these stories ultimately evolve into retellings, reimaginings, subversions, and entirely new creations--ones that alter our notions as to what a story can be. It is this feeling of surprise and delight that Storyteller aims to capture. However, the imaginative puzzle game ultimately fails to bottle that magic, failing to meaningfully evolve and instead delivering a repetitive and underwhelming experience.
The premise of Storyteller is simple yet tantalizing: You create stories that yield a certain outcome by altering the order in which key events occur. You do this by filling in boxes that resemble comic strip panels, using an established list of characters and settings to do so. As you structure your story, adjusting variables where needed in order to create the ending needed to pass the level, the panels interact with each other, resulting in a sort of interactive butterfly effect.
The challenges start off simple enough--make the prince and princess fall in love, help the knight slay the monster, etc.--then quickly become a bit more complex, requiring you to understand a certain character's temperament and how that may flavor their interactions with others. For example, the noble knight is wary of murdering another character. The bloodthirsty baron, on the other hand, will leap at the opportunity. Similarly, the knight will always vie for the queen's affection, though it remains up to you to get her to feel the same towards him.
Simplicity is the heart of Storyteller--for better and for worse. The game's mechanics are easy to understand and make for a breezy experience, and its muted, cartoony-yet-minimalistic artwork is charming. Its simplicity also makes for an experience that suits portable consoles well, as it's easy to pick up and play a few puzzles while on the go.
But while its premise is inspired, Storyteller suffers from feeling overly simple. At nearly 30 minutes into the game's hour-long runtime, it already begins to feel empty and far too small--too small for creativity, too small to provide a sense of challenge, and too small to create an engaging experience. You quickly discover there are very few variables and characters you can interact with, and they are frequently repeated throughout levels. This means once you're halfway through the game, you'll have no new puzzle pieces to ponder over or to attempt to squeeze into their proper place. And, once you have a grasp on how these variables interact with each other, each level feels less like a puzzle and more like a quick exercise of tossing things into place in order to move forward.
At times, the game begins to feel downright tedious, as you are no longer solving puzzles but merely arranging very obvious sequences of events. One puzzle, for example, tasked me with establishing several different characters as related by having them say, "I am your parent" to other characters. There was no challenge to it, just the frustration of having to create several panels with the same sentence spoken by different characters to establish this lineage and some affection for each other. Regardless, and with the exception of one level that took me slightly longer than usual to figure out, I was able to absent-mindedly breeze through the entire experience, which fails to provide the sense of satisfaction you want from a puzzle game.
Even the handful of optional objectives scattered throughout its levels don't add much complexity to the game, as they often task you with just tweaking a couple things to get a slightly different result. These challenges often included things like completing a story in a certain number of frames or without using a particular character, yet are so simple you can generally knock them out the first time you solve the puzzle. Sure, it was cute enough to see some of these differences play out, but it also made me wish the game offered more room for creativity--a larger bank of variables to play around with and more options on how to reach a level's end goal.
Storyteller is frustrating in that it never feels as if you are truly solving a puzzle or creating a story of your own. Rather, you are trying to piece together the exact story the game expects from you. While there are a few levels where you can attain a satisfactory ending multiple ways, these feel few and far between. Ultimately, all these issues stifle the experience, reducing it to a creative concept that doesn't feel fulfilled. This also eliminates any replayability the game might have, as once you play a level, there's no benefit to trying to find a different solution and achieve a new outcome.
As someone who loves fairy tales and has sunk quite a few hours into creative puzzle games like Scribblenauts, I was delighted by the prospect of playing Storyteller. Unfortunately, the experience was underwhelming. While its concept is interesting, the game ultimately feels confined--held back by simple puzzles and its lack of creative freedom.