8 bit graphics is all about restrictions and how to get around it. Its distinct beauty relies heavily on designers ingenuity we will never see in modern video games. Now if you put 8 bit styles into a modern game without a second thought, you would have Stay.
What inspired point and click adventures in 8 bit fashion was its limitation. And it is that limitation Stay should have respected in its due diligence. 8 bit style, or simply old video games, needed a cunning plan for visual representation to create any kind of rich adventure. Point & Click solved this problem by literally creating an environment in which the gamers see different kind of responses, no matter how comically exaggerated it may seem, in every points and clicks. By choosing to return to the old school in the current systems, developers must provide more than bare minimum that once made 8 bit style great, but also the new elements that could not have been incorporated in the early days. This game killed every opportunities it had in delivering so.
Take, for instance, the general gameplay experience. You are provided with a chat window in which Quinn, the abducted main protagonist, communes with you. But you cannot type into the chat window at all, and you are given less than 4 choices at a given time. It certainly has a new gimmick, one such as seeing Quinn’s facial responses, but this fundamentally limits your interaction with the world without any 8 bit remedies we had seen. Any decisions you can make is essentially reduced to Tamagotchi level, and frankly, Tamagotchi had more decisions making than the ones you will find in Stay.
And the problem of choice continues on even to the puzzle segments of the game. In the early era of the video games, graphics was often chopped up to serve more than one purpose. It is now a common knowledge that Super Mario Brothers reused sprite as many times as possible to save system resources. But Stay, a game published in 2018, is free from that restrains and is expected to deliver more. If your decisions are narrowed down to three possible inputs at most, then for each input we expect to see different tapestries, but we don’t. In fact, even in the areas where more insightful graphics can be delivered by simply reverse-playing the animation, it doesn’t. This limits your immersion into the world, thus leaving it off worse Tamagotchi.
Speaking of Tamagotchi, no characters in this game have real soul. We are immediately introduced to three characters when the game starts: Quinn, the captive, shadowy antagonist, the kidnapper, and You, the person on the other line of the chat screen. But who are YOU? The game doesn’t build any of the three characters until its finale, and suddenly you are shoved with tragic backstories. If the background mattered, we should have seen how deeply it affects them into the core, but we have been told Quinn is nobody by himself so many times, by the end of the revelations, nobody cares. The only thing you do during its unfolding is keeping Quinn in line by finishing the game in time. Your interaction to Quinn doesn’t add anything else to the game. Most of his lines come from movie quotes and tropes; but none of them truly defines him nor add a new perspective of his persona. The thin vagueness even he used to introduce himself is repeatedly abused since the beginning of the game. We never get to see Quinn blossom.
Some of these puzzle designs are questionable in its development as well. The fact that you are the one solving it, YOU, not Quinn, makes shift to puzzle segments more discomforting than immersive. Take the infamous peacock puzzle. What is your goal? No idea. What does this puzzle deliver? No idea, it is never clearly revealed to us. It is obvious from its UI that you must solve it minesweeper style, but the puzzle doesn’t want to be any minesweeper. In a desperate attempt to add some Freudian symbolism, the puzzle is compromised to a point where solving it for a rational answer is futile. They may have thought incorporating symbolism and metaphors into the puzzles, with motifs inspired from the real world, but in doing so they broke the puzzles and the immersion itself, as most of them are plainly mundane.
Conclusion: You can’t Stay in Stay
In the world of Stay, it is truly hard to stay concentrated on Quinn. You are not the guy on the other end of 911 calls, desperately guiding him out of a psycho’s cell. In fact, you are not even in the picture. Your purpose in this game is blurred to a point where hanging up on him seems to have no effect in terms of canon. If you were expecting a real time, point and click adventure reliving its glory in 2018, you will find no such thing in Stay. But if you wanted another walking simulator in point and click art style, there you have it.