STAY review (Vita)

STAY was recently announced for Playstation 4 and the Nintendo Switch, but it also got a simultaneous release on the Playstation Vita thanks to Ratalaika’s porting skills. Here’s our review of that version.

The Vita has certainly been home to plenty of pixel art 2D adventure titles over the years. Many of them, like Home and Lone Survivor, have (psychological) horror elements – and even though there’s a distinct psychological element to STAY, I wouldn’t call it a horror game. Instead, it’s a clever and intriguing concept with a few thriller elements thrown into the mix.

In STAY, you play as you – the player. You get to watch as a man named Quinn is taken captive and locked in a room. He wakes up, and the only thing in the room is a computer that allows for communication with the outside world by way of a single application that’s installed on it – a visual chat interface. The kicker? The person he gets to chat with is you.

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Of course, Quinn initially distrusts you and thinks you have to be the one behind his predicament, so you’ll need to gain his trust and start helping him (and yourself) piece together what is going on and how to escape. You have pre-defined answers to choose from by the way, so there’s no need to worry about painfully spelling out each response letter by letter.

Gaining Quinn’s trust is a time-sensitive process as well, since he’ll start to worry when you need to step away for a bathroom break – and might comment on our absence when you return. The effect is even stronger when you leave to go sleep and come back the next evening after work. It’s great in making Quinn appear “real” and alive inside your Playstation Vita, but the dynamic is ultimately relatively shallow and not as impactful as it seems – Quinn either quickly forgives you or you get reset to an earlier point in the game.

At times, Quinn will also leave the computer to explore his surroundings and solve puzzles – of courses aided and urged on by you. When this happens, the perspective changes to a side view of the room in which you seen Quinn doing his thing – and this is where the pixel art and animation in STAY can really be appreciated. You don’t have direct control over Quinn in these sections either, but the end result is a cinematic experience where you feel like a very involved spectator due to your bond with Quinn.

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The game is divided into 24 chapters and has multiple endings, which all reveal a little more about the plot and thus encourage replays. The puzzles largely stay the same though, and their design is a little hit and miss. They can be tied into the narrative, or they can be completely random – but in either case they’re not always as polished as you’d want them to be. Narrative games with random puzzles can definitely work (Professor Layton is a great example), but poor puzzle designs just take you out of an otherwise riveting narrative.

Quinn does have a tendency to ramble on a bit, perhaps because he’s lonely in his personal prison. If you’re the “let’s get on with the escape, Quinn!” type then this’ll probably bother you, but if you enjoy the psychological and even philosophical predicament that Quinn is in then you’ll find the narrative intriguing – it’s just too bad that such a great setup wasn’t paired with ditto puzzle gameplay.

Score: 7.2/10

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