- Developer: Convict Games
- Publisher: Convict Games
- Release Date: 08/05/2020
- Price: £13.49 / $14.99
- Review code provided by Convict Games
CONTENT WARNING: This review discusses drug-related content within the game.
Introducing: STONE Nintendo Switch Review
What kind of experience are you signing up for when you play a self-proclaimed “hip hop stoner noir” where the main character is a belligerent hung-over koala? There are a lot of right answers, because this game is a lot of things: a story, a cinema, a music venue. The experience, while unpolished, is nothing if not memorable: once you put the dang doobie away and get to work, you’ll be treated to a surprisingly emotional tale.
We are thrust into the story in the same way as our hero, whose name appropriately happens to be Stone: waking up in his trashed flat, he gets a call saying that his lover Alex has been kidnapped. With no leads or clues as to what occurred the prior evening, it’s a good thing our hero happens to be a Private Investigator.
Having just learned that our beloved “Chookie” is missing and possibly in danger, it seems like a strange time to introduce the fact that we can press “X” to smoke pot at any time. Stone, decked out in his classy open button-down, will light up a joint and stand around… just vibing. That’s it. Nothing else happens, and the story isn’t affected. It didn’t quite feel “right” to indulge in this (and many more) relaxing distractions when I was on an intense mission to track down my lover. I almost wanted to be punished for procrastinating! Man, I ought to press “X” and loosen up a bit…
Walking around the flat, you’ll need to get the hang of keeping the tight camera in control as Stone slowly moves around. I’d be annoyed at the walking speed, if not for the fact that enjoying the ambiance is how you get the most out of this game. Just as with smoking, a lot of the features in STONE are peripheral to the story – they exist for your relaxation alone. More on this later.
Rollin’ at your own pace
Stoners aren’t exactly known for being active. So it is that you won’t be zipping around completing quests or collecting items. Instead, true to life, gameplay amounts to ambling around dazed and confused.
Chapters are very short scenarios in which you are mostly interrogating characters. The first place you’ll explore outside of Stone’s flat is a bar run by a sassy hen named Cockie. Speaking with her, you’ll have a few opportunities to make dialogue choices. Often, it just amounts to deciding whether Stone is going to play softball, or be a little more forceful.
Although your decisions might change how your target reacts, there are only a few that affect the story even a little bit – and so it is for the entire game. That does take the pressure off, and it’s fun to return to levels through the main menu to see how someone might react to a different choice. Plus, it’s a pleasure to re-experience the great voice acting, which brings each character’s already-witty lines to life. (If you ever get lost in the lingo, there’s a mini Aussie slang dictionary in the main menu.)
During the story, I never once questioned the world we were in – it felt very natural. Yes, we are all anthropomorphic animals in Australia. Yes, this one smokes weed. Yes, that one is wearing a Kanye shirt. They acknowledge their animal-ness in a natural way, but it doesn’t ever feel like quirky window dressing. It’s just a shame that the awesome concept art showcased in the main menu didn’t come across in the final product, with its rudimentary textures. Although, at one point before the chapter-change splash, my screen glitched inside of Stone’s head – so I guess you could say I got an unprecedented glimpse into the character’s mind…
Interactables are helpfully indicated with a purple dot, and there’s a decent amount of them in Stone’s flat, where we begin; not too many to overwhelm you, but enough to make the environment feel rich and lived-in (however sloppy and polygonal the graphics are.) However, it ends there. Just about every other area feels extremely sparse. The NPCs littered around each environment are mute props, as you are only meant to speak to one person in each level. The club area in particular is cavernous and full of NPCs, but all you can do there is dance (instead of smoke) and talk to the bartender. There is really almost nothing to do in story chapters besides take care of the story and move on, as much as we’re invited to enjoy the slappin’ soundtrack from up-and-coming hip-hop artists.
Take it easy, man
One might argue that the story takes a backseat in this game, as linear and impactful as it is. You could just as easily fire up this game, go to the main map, and simply pop Night of the Living Dead on your TV. That’s right – the in-game cinema (as well as Stone’s TV,) features a selection of public domain classics for your enjoyment. Why? Don’t ask so many questions. It’s there, and you can enjoy it, or you can not. It’s your prerogative.
Similarly, you can also listen to the different songs in STONE’s soundtrack or enjoy some lowkey tunes in the sauna. Sure, it’s probably easier to find these movies and musicians online, but that’s not the point. Developer Greg Louden told us in a recent interview that this game is a fusion of mediums, serving as “a story, a film festival and a music festival.” Players can buzz through the plot, or spend a few evenings going through the movie selections – taking time at this celebration of great media. Maybe smoking a joint – or ten.
Blazing a trail
Fans of the game Firewatch will find that STONE’s story, while told in a cartoony shell, ends on a similar note. It’s matter-of-fact, it’s unchangeable, it’s impactful. Most of all, the journey there is a meandering one. You can blaze through the game, but you are encouraged to stop and smell the roses. Although the graphics and general emptiness of the world were disappointing, this game breaks new ground. It brings movies and music to the Switch in a bold way – and in a world that is so very unique, it could only have come from Down Under.
- Engaging story
- Interesting characters with good voice acting
- Small library of movies and music
- Poor graphics and textures
- Empty environments
STONE’s story is short and sweet, but takes place in an empty and unattractive environment. The silver lining is a library of public domain movies and new music to relax to.