How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. The game is very open with an insane number of secrets to find.
Primary Challenge: Tricky Platforming
Time to beat: ~10 hours
Review Info: An Untitled Story was played on PC using the free version from the official site linked below.
Buy An Untitled Story if you like…
- Precision Platformers
- 2000s freeware games
- Brutal Difficulty
- Finding obscure secrets
- Eggs and Birds
▼ Review continues below ▼
Edit: This article was originally published with the wrong name for the developer. It has been updated, and we apologize for the error and for any confusion that it caused.
There was a short time in the 2000s where a bunch of kids were getting a hold of game making tools and the internet was ablaze with amateur games of all kinds. An Untitled Story is the sixth game publicly posted from now well-known game designer Maddy Thorson, and to me it serves as a sort of nostalgic time capsule for that era. It has all the markings of those amateur games. The graphics look like they were made with a simple pixelart tool. The music sounds like he took midi files of other songs and scrambled them so they were only slightly recognizable. The story is like a highschool daydream, or something your friend makes up just to fill the time while waiting for a class. It’s absolutely fantastic, but to top it off, An Untitled Story is actually a very good game in contrast to those production values. At least, it is if you enjoy a good hard challenge.
You start out in An Untitled Story as a mere egg, and your task for the first couple of hours is to figure out where the heck you’re supposed to go. In a true Metroidvania fashion you collect blue eggs that grant you more powers like double jumping or shooting, and you have to apply those powers in order to move forward. Until you get to about a third of the way through the game though, you get a strong feeling of being trapped, as many progression points seem unnecessarily obscure. There may even be a couple that come across as being completely unfair – although the game does do a decent job at telegraphing the “puzzle” involved. This “trapped” feeling is intentional but I think a lot of players will be frustrated by it pretty quickly, and are either going to be reaching out for a guide or will quit playing entirely. Personally I delighted in the taste of freedom when I found each new path, even though that feeling was often fleeting as what I discovered often ended up being another dead-end.
There is a point in the game where you’re suddenly set free, and you’re nearly overwhelmed with options. Once you get there you can go pretty much wherever you want and the game’s true story really starts to unfold. Like in many other Metroidvania games you have to collect a certain number of macguffins in order to open a door to the final area. Interestingly this is one of the differences between the game’s four difficulty modes. One the highest mode you need all ten of these gold orb macguffins, and on any other difficulty you only have to retrieve some of them. You can also gather these orbs in any order you choose – assuming there isn’t some other requisite ability upgrade you have to find. On the lower difficulties this lets you skip the challenges you just don’t feel up to doing, which is actually really interesting design, especially since An Untitled Story is so brutally hard.
At that point where you are set free the difficulty ramps up significantly. Most of An Untitled Story’s challenges are platforming centric. You’re often tasked with weaving between enemies and avoiding spikes, and as the game progresses the distance between checkpoints becomes longer and longer. There are very few instant death mechanics, so finding health upgrades can help a lot. Later areas also increase the damage you take so the more health you have the better. As you get deeper into a challenge every time you get hit it feels almost literally painful, because you know it brings you one step closer to having to start over. An Untitled Story’s control is especially tight, and enemy design is very predictable, so nothing ever feels unfair. However, that doesn’t stop it from being a dancing mad occasion every time you watch your poor egg lose its final hitpoint.
Bosses are designed in a similar way to the platforming. They’re usually endurance challenges where you have to dodge their attacks before an opening allows you to deal your damage. This is a tricky thing to design, and it’s a framework I’ve had criticisms about before. Usually what happens is that bosses start out really slow and then get more complex as the fight progresses, and having to play the whole thing out from the beginning compounds the frustration. There are two reasons this design is more bearable in An Untitled Story. The first is that the game moves at a pretty fast pace in general, and most bosses don’t ever start out “easy”, for better or worse. With every retry I found ways to improve my game in the earlier phases of the boss fight, which gave me more HP to phone it in on the last phases. The second reason I think these bosses are better designed is because you usually have a very clear picture of how long the boss fight is going to be. Most bosses have candles in the background representing their HP, indicating just how much longer you have to go. You’re also not just waiting for the boss to finish their performance – you have to be constantly alert for when the opening to attack presents itself. Most bosses are invincible until their attack phase is over, nevertheless you still have to pay attention so you’re close enough to jump on them when you can. An Untitled Story is all about platforming, so this back-and-forth boss design works fairly well, and most of the boss fights were memorable.
If you’re having a hard time at any point, you can always do the Metroidvania thing and look for more health or optional blue eggs. There are a staggering 95 health upgrades in the game, and I only found around 45 of them, so there was a ton of leeway I could have added to the harder challenges if I took the extra time. With that said, some of the health upgrades may be harder than just getting good at the level or boss pattern, because a decent number of them are locked behind these accursed doors that require you to be at full health to open them. To put that in a different way, some upgrades require you to perform difficult platforming challenges without taking a single hit of damage – which is something not even the final boss asks you to do. It’s another ingenious instance where the game lets you pick which challenges you want to face. Do you want to master a specific section so you can take more hits later on? Or do you want to just get good at the final challenge?
The way An Untitled Story is constructed from a narrative and level design standpoint is also pretty ingenious. With such a high focus hard precision platforming, the game avoids repeating its challenges by letting you teleport to any checkpoint that you’ve visited. This also allows you to jump close to any dead end you haven’t explored, and lets you take a break even in the final dungeon in case you just want a change of scenery. This adds to the sense of overall freedom and adventure that the game’s theming also attempts to convey. An Untitled Story’s narrative isn’t anything profound, but it is creative, and it’s married to the gameplay in some surprising ways.
There is a lot to praise in An Untitled Story, but it’s not without its niggles, and it’s certainly not a game for everyone. I don’t normally talk about technical issues, but for whatever reason while playing the game in windowed mode, every time I died my window size changed, which was especially troublesome for recording footage of the game. I also used Joy to Key so I could use my PlayStation 4 controller, even though the game ostensibly has some decent control options from the game’s menu – it was just easier than trying to get it to work through the game pad option. In other words it took a little bit of work to get the game playing the exactly the way I liked. Aside from that, while I still stand by my statement that all of the game’s dexterity challenges are as fair as they are difficult, some of the hidden secrets are definitely not fair at all. I only accidentally found some of the hearts I came across by accidentally smashing through a floor, or walking into an unmarked wall. An Untitled Story lacks an X-Ray visor or hint tool that might tell you which rooms hold secrets – at least, not that I found – so if you’re going for 100% you’re going to have to be especially thorough on each and every screen, and even then you might still need a guide. I’m pretty sure that all of the blue orbs are only hidden behind platforming challenges, but for the hearts there don’t seem to be any rules.
You may have some issues with the game’s aging client, or find some of its challenges to be less than fair, but An Untitled Story holds up very well today from a gameplay perspective. Maddy Thorson has gone on to do some great things, including acting as a designer for popular games like Celeste and Towerfall. Celeste in particular surpasses An Untitled Story in almost every imaginable way when it comes to the precision platforming, while also including some robust accessibility options that An Untitled Story severely lacks. But An Untitled Story still has its unique take on exploration, and if you enjoyed Maddy’s other works there’s a lot of fun to be had in seeing where their mind was at over 14 years ago. An Untitled Story is definitely a niche game in that it doesn’t pull any punches on difficulty, but if you enjoy a good precision platformer it’s worth checking out. Plus, it’s absolutely free, so you have nothing to lose from at least looking.
Platforming is definitely the focus here, thus enemies are more about being obstacles rather than providing combat experiences. Bosses have you taking turns between dodging attacks and stomping on their head in an opening
It gets to hair pulling difficulties, but it's always very tightly designed
The world is enormous and even the smallest health upgrades could make a huge difference in the health of your controller if you're prone to throwing your controller.
Not a major focus for the game, but there are some block pushing puzzles that unlock treasure chests that can really twist your brain.
It's imaginative and delightfully silly, but it would be a stretch to say it was profound.
I personally think there's a certain charm to the amateur Gamemaker Studio look, and it does everything it needs to for the gameplay
Like the graphics, the music exudes this game's production values. It's part of the charm, but it's not high quality.
Once you reach a certain point in the game you can go basically anywhere in any order. Plus there are four different difficulty modes you can try.