STAY for the Nintendo Switch Review: Time is of the essence

STAY for the Nintendo Switch

An award-winning game developed by AppNormals and produced by PQube for Nintendo Switch, STAY is a real-time, interactive, story-telling game steeped in puzzles and emotion.
The premise of the game is one which can be summed up perfectly by the rhetoric presented on the Nintendo eStore – “What would you do if a strangers fate rested in your finger tips?”
In-game, you’re presented with an old computer with an online chat room and live feed. Our protagonist, Quinn, wakes alone in a locked room. When he approaches the PC for the first time, he discovers that someone is on the other end of the chat line. That person is you – the player. Over the course of your time with the game and your time away from the game, you are Quinn’s sole lifeline as he embarks on a physically and mentally arduous journey of self-discovery.
After your initial interactions with Quinn, it is clear he is unaware of the reasons for his plight and is understandably on edge. This is exhibited first and foremost through icons on the left-hand side of the screen. They represent four moods, and careful balancing of these is pivotal to any success you may have in supporting Quinn through this difficult time. The four moods include: sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic and choleric. Each is indicated by different colours of water swimming in a meter and depending upon the advice and guidance you provide Quinn, the mood meters will go up or down accordingly. The colour selection for these moods, coupled with the wave-like motion of the meter, serve as a constant reminder that time is precious and any wrong turn could seal Quinn’s fate.
As well as managing Quinn’s mood throughout, the emotional bond between the two of you is of vital importance. This, and the trust level, are monitored on screen (as seen below.) As you begin to build a relationship with Quinn, your emotional bond moves from stranger to acquaintance and so on. The ultimate goal is for Quinn to consider you a friend, which will make him feel much more comfortable in sharing his innermost thoughts and fears. I kept a close eye on both of these meters, almost as much as his mood, so that I could find out as much about Quinn as possible.
Although to some it may seem the game is quite limiting, with on-screen text interactions between two characters being the bulk of the gameplay, the dialogue is deeply engrossing. The more I learned of Quinn and tried to empathize with his situation, the more I felt it was my duty to ensure his survival. I also found myself thinking about STAY when I wasn’t playing. The game records the amount of time you ‘stay’ with Quinn and how much time you don’t. As a real-time game, the time away could make all the difference and I was keen to check in with him whenever I could.
There is a variety of gameplay mechanics that create more moments of tension and suspense, with carefully crafted puzzles given for you to complete. These range from solving key-code combinations to piecing together old photos to a maze of mirrors. Each was incredibly well-designed with just had enough guidance to make them possible, but challenging. I thoroughly enjoyed each of the puzzles but was equally pleased to get through them and back to talking to my cyber friend, Quinn.
For all the puzzles and pixel-art, it is very important to note that throughout the story there are a number of mature themes which are explored. The game begins by informing you of exactly this, stating “This game addresses themes such as anxiety, death, loneliness, and depression.” These are subjects which should be handled with sensitivity and class. There will always be some who believe that these should not be explored in a game, and it is difficult to know what is right and what is wrong. I do feel however that STAY has managed to incorporate these themes with dignity while maintaining a sense of sensibility towards the subject material. There is a recurring feeling throughout when Quinn is discussing his thoughts and experiences, it can be related to something bigger than his current situation. There were a number of occasions where I stopped to pause and reflect. Again, not on the current situation in-game but on life and it’s ups and downs, and that really made this game special and unique.
When describing graphics and sound design, I normally begin with the visuals, however, the audio of STAY is first in my thoughts. For a game that explores the themes that this one does, STAY deserves the best. In Kai Engel, AppNormals have managed to find someone who understood entirely the vision of this game and the soundtrack not only compliments but enhances the atmosphere created.
Graphically, STAY is far from groundbreaking. It does, however, utilise an excellent pixel-art style to develop the story through cutscenes. I wondered if the game would have been better suited to a more realistic approach, however, I struggled to come to a definitive conclusion.

Likes

If it wasn’t clear already, there is a lot to like about STAY. The developers have created a game which is thought-provoking, creative and well-designed. Managing the emotions of the protagonist and supporting him in his plight is an experience I was fully engrossed in and the alternate endings of the game means that I can replay it time and time again.

Dislikes

I struggle to pinpoint anything that I would have liked to have been done differently. Although the puzzles were challenging and the guidance was minimal, this was something I felt was to STAY’s credit. It meant for challenging scenarios which only helped to create the same tension that the storyline and soundtrack achieve.
With 24 chapters, 7 alternate endings and over 40 rooms for Quinn to explore, there is a lot of content on offer in STAY. On top of this, the incredibly moving, atmospheric music and the management of Quinn’s emotions on a second-by-second basis serves for a truly exceptional experience which I look forward to enjoying time and time again. This is a very easy one for me to recommend and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Highly Recommended

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Reviewed by Shaun Hughes on the Nintendo Switch. Game provided by PQube.