When I first heard about the premise of Stay, from developer Appnormals Team and published by PQube, I was immediately intrigued. It reminded me of a time when I would sit in front of my computer screen chatting with friends over AOL or MSN messenger. While Stay is not lighthearted as I was describing above with my time messaging, this was one unique adventure fans of the genre should not miss.
Stay is a 16-bit style adventure title where a person named Quinn is kidnapped and finds himself imprisoned inside a mysterious building. The bulk of the game involves talking to Quinn as he tries to assess the situation, while dropping a few clues about his personal life. Occasionally you will respond to Quinn with dialogue choices, but be wary as some of them can lead to his untimely demise. This forces you to replay the chapter from the very beginning, but fortunately most chapters run a few minutes long.
You would think a largely text-based experience coupled with a retro pixel visual style would be a pretty barebones experience, but it actually does a great job of creating atmosphere and tension. If anything the low-budget graphics allow the imagination to fill in the gaps, creating more immersion than a HD coat of paint would do. The visuals are also backed up with equally rudimentary, but well-placed soundbites and music for when well-timed shock tactics are employed or if the story needs to build unease or uncertainty with eerie tunes or noises.
At the end of each chapter you are presented with a breakdown of the choices that other players have made. In addition to helping Quinn escape you must keep his mental bearings in check by choosing dialogue that preserves his sanity while maintaining a strong relationship with him. If you spend too much time away from Stay, you’ll actually lose Quinn’s trust and this may result in his death. This adds a sense of urgency to the proceedings
Thankfully, the majority of the dialogue is well-written, ranging from contemplative, irreverent, whimsical, and occasionally down right depressing. It can also lead to some amusing banter between Quinn and yourself asking some deep personal questions of religion, politics, and even every day life. Unfortunately, Quinn does have a bad habit of creating too much exposition at times, which sometimes dilutes the importance of his situation.
Outside of the dialogue choices, the only other form of interaction with Quinn is the puzzle solving. These include aligning electrical circuitry and opening a lock by sliding blocks, similar to other block sliding puzzlers. Many of these puzzles are very clever and will definitely flex you brain capacity, however, some instructions or hints would have been nice if the puzzle parts of the gameplay weren’t your thing.
Stay is comprised of 24 chapters which take three to four hours to complete. There are multiple endings and story arcs to give it some extra replayability. Aside from the repetitive music and lack of puzzle instructions, I really enjoyed my time with Stay and it’s very rare to see a game that thinks outside the box successfully. The chat room interface is unique and makes for an excellent tool for building a relationship with a fictional character. If you’re a fan of old-school adventure titles, you should definitely give Stay a try.