In the early days of man, our ancestors inscribed stories of their lives and inspiring tales by painting them on walls and in caves. We’ve learned a lot about how they lived through these works of primitive art, yet their presence outside of these historical artefacts has been reserved for documentaries and occasionally film and TV. Through this style, Stone Tales tries to tell its tale of two fledgling warriors, but sadly comes up short.
First impressions count for a lot in this industry, as it’s the first glimpse of a game that can help it to stand out from the crowd. Heck, it was the screenshots that piqued my interest in this action-platformer, with its cave-painting style visuals depicting some rather basic character models. They’re certainly distinct and are easily the most original thing that Stone Tales has going for it.
I say this because the action-platformer genre has been done to death and there’s little separating this from its contemporaries. You essentially control two brothers at the same time; Uga who is the leaner of the two who can throw spears, and Buga who wields a massive shield to block incoming attacks. This is all well and good, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired thanks to some inaccurate hit-detection. Multiple times I found that I had somehow not cleared a gap with my jumps, and one of the two brothers either got stuck on the edge or had passed through the platform and fallen into the abyss. Other times, spears looked to have hit their target, but they would somehow still be alive.
The game’s controls seem to be another stumbling block. Uga and Buga move at the same time when walking, but have independent buttons for jumping. However, when blocking with Buga’s shield, the power of Uga’s spear throws seems to not be consistent with how long the left mouse button is held down for. It results in moments where you’re throwing spears and just hoping it hits something!
Another problem I have is with the key bindings. Since you can’t change them manually in-game, you’re stuck with default controls that, while they work fine, take a bit of getting used to. There isn’t explicit gamepad support detailed on the Steam page and for good reason, as all I could do with my pad was walk left and right. It’s a real shame, as it feels like it would have been more playable with a gamepad.
With only six levels, Stone Tales takes just a few hours to complete, though it does have a price that matches this brevity. Yet nothing leapt out as anything particularly interesting outside of the art style, and the game itself seems to just go through the motions. It’s literally style over substance, despite set pieces that have you chasing an antelope, which is a great shame.
Aside from the rather wonderfully unique presentation, there is a distinct lack of polish. The music seems to be inspired by tribal themes, but loops so often that it quickly grates despite each level having a unique track. It’s a shame there isn’t more substance to the soundtrack as we could have had something special here.
Weirdness also factors into some of the presentation, such as when the camera transitions between stages or when you die. It whizzes around as if it lost track of all sense of reality in a nauseating display when respawning, while completing a section of a level results in an abrupt jump cut to either a new part of the level or to some text that explains more of the story. It’s jarring to say the least.
Stone Tales is a good proof of concept with a unique art style, but its gameplay feels undercooked. The imprecise nature of spear throwing, combined with several cheap moments, undermine the experience. But above all else, the game just doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to show off besides the visuals. Short games are one thing and some great experiences come in small packages. If only Stone Tales had a hint of something interesting.