The Stanley Parable was remarkable in 2013 for its subversive and silly analysis of the video game medium. But with games like OneShot, Undertale, and Crows Crows Crows’ own The Beginner’s Guide, shows like Rick and Morty, and the two Deadpool films, meta storytelling self-referential media is much more prevalent now. It’s not as special, which could potentially work against The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe. But this upgraded version of the original is smart enough to rib enhanced ports while also being a fantastic one itself, too.
Being a port means that Ultra Deluxe still contains the original 2013 version of The Stanley Parable. Many of these jokes hold up well since the things it is mocking are still present. It jabs at the meaningless nature of achievements and mostly serves as a commentary of the illusion of choice the medium offers. And since games still have achievements and offer up false choices, these barbs haven’t lost their sting, even if they aren’t quite as surprising as they were then. They’re still effective because of the quality of the writing and Kevan Brighting’s superb and boisterous performance as The Narrator where he emphatically bellows those well-written lines at the player.
However, Ultra Deluxe doesn’t lose sight of being a rerelease. After players run through the base game a few times, a door labeled “New Content” opens up and leads to a segment that falls completely flat. The Narrator then calls out cheap video game developers for rushing out an expansion and is as profoundly disappointed as the player probably is.
But it’s all on purpose. This intentional and funny faceplant takes aim at the score of rereleases that flood the industry since many are just cheap ports of the exact same game. It even takes a shot at the buggy ones in a very Stanley Parable way (which has an excellent and rewarding payoff). Many hardly have anything new and are seemingly only meant to weaponize nostalgia, using as little as possible to squeeze money out of existing fans.
Ultra Deluxe knows this and pretends it is doing just that by disappointing them right off the bat and then defensively retreating to a physicalized manifestation of nostalgia complete with real glowing press reviews and awards the game won (and, cheekily, one it didn’t). It then shatters those rose-colored glasses by also offering up actual negative Steam reviews and, after accurately eviscerating the idea of them through an incredible monolog, it then decides to try and undo the damage done to the brand by its bad new content.
This “bad new content” is actually great new content in disguise since it is offering up what The Stanley Parable does so well: a biting and superbly written examination of the medium. By saying Ultra Deluxe is a slapdash port in a funny way and pointing out the ways in which these kinds of ports fail, it’s able to provide the content it jokingly pretends it doesn’t have since the jokes here are the content. It trades targeting the medium as a whole and the fake choices in it and hones in on rereleases instead. This change results in significantly fewer decisions to make and even though that means it doesn’t have many branches, it still works because the content that is here is built for serving other purposes.
Yet it doesn’t just stop there. Its aforementioned attempt to make up for the broken promises of Ultra Deluxe leads to it tackling sequels and the ideas surrounding them, which opens up the door for tons of other well-constructed gags. It roasts follow-ups the same way it roasts rehashed ports by channeling its clever wit through an array of poignant jokes. All of its sequel ideas are terrible and gaudy, but, again, that’s the point. Through these ludicrously abysmal ideas, it further draws attention to the absurdity behind the game industry’s approach to sequels by dialing it up to 11 and is entertaining, if not downright hilarious, every single time.
And even though it isn’t a sequel in name, Ultra Deluxe basically is one. It adds some unexpected bits to the core The Stanley Parable experience, has whole new sections, and intelligently finds a way to reskin the base game near the end. All of this together does make Ultra Deluxe the ultimate edition it is advertised as, but enough of a sequel, too. Its hesitancy to slap a number on the box is seemingly explored through its anti-sequel segments. It’s almost as if Crows Crows Crows knew following up The Stanley Parable would be difficult, but wanted to do it anyway, knowing it could only get away with it if it had solid enough jokes and could hide it in something marketed as a port.
It’s a defense mechanism that works because The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is crafty enough to pull it off. Even though the rudimentary visuals are undoubtedly dated, it works as a rerelease because of how accurately it translates the main game and brings it to new platforms. But it also functions as a faux sequel because of the amount of new content in it. Through its thoroughly engaging writing and cutting commentary, The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is able to make fun of exactly what it is and get away with it, allowing the game to have its cake and eat it, too.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 9 equates to “Excellent.” Entertainment that reaches this level is at the top of its type. The gold standard that every creator aims to reach.