STAY (Nintendo Switch) Review
Release Date: 9/12/18
Publisher/Developer: Pqube/Appnormals Team
Platform: Switch (reviewed), Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Vita
By and large video games are an escape. You can escape to a fantasy world to have a little peace and entertainment, even though your stressors are still out there waiting for you when you get back. But what if it were backward? What if you had stressors in a video game and after walking away they were still there waiting for your return? We haven't seen that kind of "gameplay" since the Tamagotchi craze. STAY plays on that emotion, but instead of wondering if your little pet is dirty or dead because you ignored it, you're toying with human emotion.
Quinn is a young man who wakes up one day to find himself locked in a room alone. He has no idea how he got there and no idea how to get out. He finds a strange computer with a chat window open to you. You become his only access to the real world. Quinn wonders if he can trust you--what if YOU put him here?--and yet you are the only one willing to try to help him escape. The big difference that's key in this game is Quinn is waiting on the other end of the line, much like if you leave someone hanging on a text message. Leave him alone for too long and he may distrust you; leave him longer and he may take his life into his own hands.
I actually dreaded starting this review. I was never a Tamagotchi guy in school. The idea of electronic entertainment relying on you for it's well being is unnerving to me. My wife had her Nintendogs and I still wonder what would happen if we popped in that cartridge today, years after the fact. There are two timers in the game, how long you are away and how long you stay. Holding on with Quinn through it all will lead to a stronger bond and more trust, which is a key in determining what kind of ending you get. STAY has many ways the story can go, and I found Quinn's grisly demise several times through my play time. If you mess up enough you can return to the start of the last chapter, and they come up quick enough that you don't really lose a lot of time. While STAY touts Quinn's trust levels changing based on time I can say that I was usually back on track fairly quickly if something went wrong. With a shorter play time and seven different endings, STAY is intended to be played through multiple times.
While you do control Quinn directly for puzzles in the game, he otherwise operates independently. You can offer suggestions but it's up to Quinn to decide what to do. As you watch Quinn try to escape he may do different things based on his trust level, maybe even lie to you or change his story. At times Quinn opts to take time for himself and goes Away from Keyboard. All actual gameplay consists of the aforementioned puzzles and the chat room. You do not type directly to Quinn (my gosh that would be an insane AI to develop) but rather respond at appropriate times with differing suggestions or attitudes to change how Quinn responds. Some of it is random and inevitable, a tempting door may be electrified and instant death where the most innocent supporter could cause his demise. The "away" mechanic and bonding dependent on your consistent support of Quinn really makes you need to stay focused on Quinn's plight for a long period of time. I may enjoy my run of Final Fantasy XV, but I have played it since Day One and only beat it a few months ago because I had other games I was playing. STAY demands that you give it prime focus during a runthrough. While it provides thrills unseen in other games, like lying in your literal bed at night and wondering how Quinn is, it may not be exciting for someone who can't take that kind of pressure.
A few design elements I do question. Most of my time with Quinn was in handheld mode. Several puzzles were VERY tactile, sliding pieces around or quick-tapping around the screen. The chat window has big chunky buttons as if you are on a mobile device of some sort, yet absolutely no touchscreen capabilities are there. I'd often listen to Quinn ramble and get the conversation buttons at the bottom and inadvertently tap them and get nothing. Some puzzles are flat out stumpers (and I'm not the only one, the Steam forums are LOADED with questions) and video reviews showed confused people having a lot less frustration with mouse control on the PC. One that’s particularly driving me crazy involves you having prior knowledge of several different languages. Combine that with the haphazard control scheme that would best be remedied by a mouse or touchscreen, and you find yourself wishing you were on another platform.
Once, I had to run to the bus stop to pick up the kids and wanted to take Quinn with me to keep an eye on him, and that's where I discovered that the game is using some sort of online check-in to ensure that your time is accurate. I'm not sure of the need for this. Yes, I could go in and meddle with my machine's internal clock to see what happens. I'm not sure I would though. Literally at the very least once every two minutes the Switch would cycle into "disconnected" mode, and I'd have to force cancel the wi-fi sniffer only to go back into the game like no big deal. There are online percentages shown to you at the end of a chapter to see how many people made the same choices but I'm not sure they are necessary when immersion is key. STAY is not a game for people with weak Wi-Fi scenarios which isn't really notified on the game's store page.
That being said, STAY can really get you. If you hadn't noticed, I've been saying "my time with Quinn" and not "my time with the game" through the whole article. Quinn feels relatable, despite his occasionally foul mouth and strange habits to correct hys tyypos (*his typos) in the midst of a crisis. The developers promise that puzzles completed on a first runthrough can be skipped on future runs, making it easier to see the different story branches. I got confused at some of the extra stats (OK, Quinn feels very sanguine and a little choleric, what does that mean compared to my minimal choice interactions with him?) but was able to keep a good eye on my basic trust and friendship levels to better understand whether I could crack a joke or not. It's taken me extra time to write this article simply because I keep wanting to check in on Quinn and help figure out this mystery. The value price is definitely worth it for anyone on the fence, though I'd avoid it if stress is a problem for you (the game warns about themes of anxiety, death, loneliness, and depression and offers support at stay-game.com/help). STAY creates a unique atmosphere where you get the chance to play out the fate of someone who relies on you. Are you going to help him out of this mess, or would you rather be the one pulling the strings behind his prison? The choices are up to you.
-Simplistic dark pixel art and ambient noises create a world you become enveloped in
-The core STAY mechanic makes you bond to Quinn and time away changes how he reacts to you
-Emotions that pull at you when you are away from your console
-Quick return if a path leads to death
-Most all gameplay is through the chat function
-Bizzare puzzles offer absolutely no hints and no way to bypass until you've succeeded at least once
-Touchscreen looking set up with no use of the Switch (and I assume Vita)'s natural capabilities
-Constant internet connection required
Many thanks to Pqube/Appnormals Team for providing a chat line to Quinn for review of the game!