Piecing Together Tales of Tragedy and Triumph in Storyteller

Storyteller is a puzzle adventure game where players are given an overview of stories and then tasked with building them out and filling in all the details across cartoon-like panels. It’s much more of a puzzle solving type game than one where players are actually creating the stories themselves, although with a heavy emphasis on fairy-tale type scenarios.

It was created by a single developer, Daniel Benmergui, and published by Annapurna Interactive, which is famous for also publishing the amazing Stray title last year. In terms of gameplay, Storyteller is surprisingly simple, and yet also maintains some complex elements whereby players can at least nudge the stories in different directions, even if doing so diverges the tale away from the “proper” solution.

Pretty much anyone can play Storyteller because it’s as simple as dragging and dropping possible scenes and characters into place on cartoon-like panels to try and match with the story’s headline or title, which is always something like “The Queen Marries a Fearsome Dragon.” Players are first presented with a blank canvas consisting of between three and six empty panels. Along the bottom of the screen there are story elements that can be dragged and dropped into those panels to try and fill out and complete the story.

Players have two sets of story elements to work with as they try to build out a tale that matches the title of the story. The first group consists of locations like a royal ballroom or a dark forest, as well as actions (that can either be taken by characters or which happen to them) like death, love or poison. The second group are the characters themselves. Many of the characters are recurring in multiple stories with some of the most popular ones being named Edgar, Leona and Isobel, while generic fairy tale type of characters such as kings, queens, dragons and others also make appearances.

When beginning a new scenario, you need to drag tiles from the first group (with scenes or actions) onto the blank panels and then follow that by populating them with the characters. Storyteller is really smart about how it depicts the characters in relation to the scene. For example, if you drag characters into a ballroom setting, they will be wearing party clothes and generally looking like they are having a good time. And if you drag them into an action panel, like poison, then they will either be shown deviously mixing poison to give to someone else, or innocently drinking poisoned wine and dying, depending on the story.

Storyteller does a wonderful job of following along if players try to think outside the box. For example, if the Edgar character dies in one of the early panels from drinking poison, and you later drag him into a panel with a still alive Leona, then Edgar will appear as a ghost, and Leona will look really scared. This happens whether or not having Edgar appear as a ghost will advance the story. For example, if there is no reason to bring Edgar back as a ghost, you still can, and it will scare Leona, even if that won’t help you solve the puzzle. You can also, of course, do it if Leona poisoned Edgar and the story calls for a vengeful ghost, but it’s nice to see the game will react either way. The developer did a great job of figuring out every possible interaction with each story so that you can’t stump Storyteller.

Once you have completed a story and configured the board to match the headline, players automatically earn a crown and go on to the next story. There are also sometimes bonus objectives which are more difficult to figure out, but which earn a special point in addition to the crown if you do. For example, the objective of a story might be to have one couple break up, and then one of those characters needs to marry another character. The simplest way to do that might be to kill the unfortunate first lover off. However, Storyteller might present a bonus objective that “nobody should die.” It might take some thinking and an extra panel, but if players can figure out how to accomplish that, they will earn the bonus point. But they advance to a new story and move on to the next level regardless.

Another nice thing about Storyteller is that there is very little pressure while playing. There is no timer, so you don’t have to rush through and toss a bunch of characters and scenes together quickly. And you can go back and change or delete panels if you don’t like how the story is going or if you get yourself painted into a corner or maybe run out of panels before the story is complete. Some of the later story puzzles can be quite complex, and it’s nice to be able to study them and try new things at your own pace without worrying about a timer or a score. Because of this, Storyteller is just as much a title that both casual players and hardcore puzzle gamers can enjoy.

One thing to note is that not all of the stories in Storyteller have happy endings. In fact, many of them involve deception, betrayal or outright murder. Storyteller has no ESRB rating, but with themes like that, it would probably get an M or at least a T based on those dark themes alone despite the cartoon-like presentation. So, parents in particular might want to give it a quick look before letting younger kids play.

Storyteller is currently on Steam for less than $15, making it a great value for those searching for an interesting puzzle-solving type title that happens to revolve around literature and especially fairy tales.

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