“Love is one soul in two bodies.” That quote from Aristotle is how One and One Story introduces itself. Whereas I recommended the brilliant Cart Life last week for its exhausting depth and demanding, unapologetic realism, I would implore you to give One and One Story a look for its elegant simplicity. One and One Story is a game that tells a love story. It takes platforming and turns it into a sort of poetic song and dance between two lovers, as the game mechanics reinforce the triumphs and difficulties that emerge from any serious relationship. There’s nothing in the platforming itself that hasn’t been done before, but the tryst between gameplay and narrative in this gem is nearly perfect. Short, narrated lines act as brief intermissions, not unlike the way cutscenes are used in other games on a larger scale, and the platforming reinforces the story as you progress.
A less refined attempt at portraying serious emotional attachment with a few lines of writing and a bit of jumping around would have been cliché-ridden and cringe-worthy, but nothing about this title feels forced. In the tutorial, the narrator doesn’t issue commands. The controls are explained in the first person–“And there I was, moving thanks to the arrow keys”–seamlessly weaved into the poetic meter of the game’s story. “There she was. I used Z or C to think of her.” Even the loading screen is presented in this fashion: “And so the game was loading. Again.” The language probably sounds a bit silly with me rattling it off like this, but I found it charmingly self-aware, yet earnest and sincere—“There she was. I used Z or C to think of her.” When you press this key, you are thinking of her. You are not “switching control from one virtual person to another.” Rather, you are thinking about the person you fell in love with. I thought this a fantastic example of how some simple changes in the diction typical of games writing can significantly change the implications of the gameplay.
It’s as if the tutorial is aware of what it has to do (teach you to play the game) and is making a bit of a joke about it before it sits you down and tells you this really genuine love story. The playful language is set against the backdrop of a melody that is a gorgeous, dark shade of melancholy. The tutorial, which only takes up a few seconds of your time, not only teaches you how to operate the game, but it succeeds where many tutorials fail miserably. It sets the tone. So many tutorials simply front-load a bunch of information on you and say which buttons to press without considering how the information is being presented. This can ruin those precious first moments in a game when you are experiencing a new world, full of untapped potential. The tutorial in One and One Story gets it right, as it gives you a sort of emotional context for what you’re doing with the gameplay.
The game is not subtle in its mechanical metaphors, but it doesn’t feel like it’s beating you over the head with them either. Suffice it to say, there are two characters on the screen and your job is to bring them together. Sometimes you control both of characters, and sometimes you don’t, and the clever part lies in the varying amount of control given to the player. I did threaten to break the tone sometimes, like when I accidentally (or was it?) pushed a heavy block off a ledge to land right on top of my unfortunate ladyfriend. But even the death sequence, which consists simply of an audible “gasp” and a quick restart, maintains the sincerity of the tone. In addition, shifts in the wonderful color palate invoke the changing of seasons and emphasize transitions in the relationship. The game is neither lengthy nor difficult. The whole experience sort of sweeps over you like a soft breeze, and then it’s over, and you wish it wasn’t. But then you think, if that breeze was any longer I might not have appreciated it properly, and then you start looking forward to the next breeze. Nobody really thinks this much about breezes. I should go outside.
One and One Story is a Student Showcase Finalist at the 2012 Independent Games Festival. I really had trouble deciding on a game to write about this week. It was a toss-up between this one, Nitronic Rush (a Student Showcase honorable mention at IGF from Digipen Institute of Technology), or Diego Garcia’s delightful conversation sim, FlirtOff. All of these titles engage in a way that I found fresh and unexpected, and all of them are worth your time.