Review - The Book of Unwritten Tales
The Book of Unwritten Tales (BoUT) is a charismatic point'n'click adventure game created by German indie developer King Art, who have worked previously on free-to-play Flash series Murphy's Law. This adventure has been out for nearly a year in both its native country of Germany and the UK, but is now available for wider release on Steam and GoG.com. Despite King Art's relatively small portfolio, BoUT is a cracking game in a genre almost as old as PC gaming itself.
You play through the game as four different heroes who are roped into helping an old gremlin (aptly called MacGuffin) recover an all-powerful artifact, before it falls into the clutches of an evil sorceror. The protagonist of the game is arguably Wilbur Weathervane, a naively optimistic gnome with aspirations of magehood. He finds himself suddenly thrust from his cleaning job at a dwarven bastion into an epic quest for the fate of the land. Alongside him, you play as Ivo, a noble yet quick-witted wood elf princess, and Nate Bonnet, a smug, narcissistic treasure hunter (with a heart of gold, of course). In one of the later stages, you also briefly play as Nate's pink companion Critter, a Muppet-esque creature that speaks entirely in gobbledegook.
Along the way you also meet a whole host of characters, who in typical point'n'click style you have to help (or hinder) in order to reach your own goals. The supporting cast is memorable and wonderfully quirky, even more so than the heroes of the story. You'll meet such characters as the zombie council for the 'humane treatment of the undead', the 'King of Thieves', a sewer rat who dons a mask and robs merchants, and a vegetarian dragon who's trying to become more fearsome (by reading a 10 step guide). These characters are further invigorated by some absolutely superb voice-over performances - each energetic and distinctive, helping bring the unique personalities to life.
The game itself looks as vibrant and colourful as its cast, with the backdrops being particularly stunning. Each location really could be 'straight out of a fairy tale', as the saying goes. From a magical sun-drenched cottage in the forest, to the skull-adorned gates of an orc stronghold, each vista looks incredible, omitting straight lines and dull colours at every opportunity, in lieu of vivid colours and zany, cartoonish structures. The characters are also equally well designed, and although their animations aren't always perfect, the models themselves look fantastic and are crafted with wonderful attention to detail.
As for gameplay, the puzzles themselves are sufficiently difficult, and the game keeps throwing them at you. There's always several objectives to think about, which helps keep up the pace of the game. Unlike a lot of games in the genre, important items don't particularly jump out of the scenery at you, instead blending almost seamlessly into the background. This means you'll have to search a little harder than usual to find those all-important pieces of each puzzle. If you really get stuck, though, holding down the spacebar will bring up icons over all the contextual items in a particular location - and you'll probably need this at least once or twice.
Another thing the game does well is not letting you solve certain puzzles without context - if you try to combine two items that you feel should fit together, for example, the hero might ask 'Why should I?' - letting you know you've probably got something else to find out about the items before you can solve that particular puzzle. The only slightly irritating thing about BoUT's gameplay is that you are forced to examine each item before you can use it/pick it up, which at certain points seems asinine. Never the less, solving each part of the game feels satisfying, and there's very few moments which are too easy or frustratingly difficult.
However good a game looks or plays, any point'n'click fan will tell you that a game is nothing without a good script, and here King Art have done themselves proud - the writing in BoUT is stellar. While masquerading as a lighthearted adventure romp, the game also comes across as very self-aware, and manages to include digs at an obscene amount of pop culture and fantasy genre material. The writers certainly know their audience well, and no popular franchise is safe from parody. The game includes allusions to Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and also the game's forefathers, with fond references to older point'n'clickers such as the well-loved Monkey Island series. There are also quips throughout the game that (with tongue firmly in cheek) mock the MMORPG genre mercilessly.
This all could have gone terribly wrong, though. Properties that lean heavily on pop culture references have a tendency to rely on that one aspect, and can thus come across as trite or lazy. Miraculously, BoUT manages to support all these quasi-geeky 'in-jokes' with witty dialogue and original gags that keep the game both hilarious and charming. Those familiar with point'n'click genre staples will delight at some of the fourth-wall breaking throughout the game, too - at one point, Wilbur's remarks at my repeated clicking on a chair had me giggling loudly. Somehow King Art have managed to find a perfect midway point between genre satire and straight comedy, all wrapped in a gloriously imagined, beautifully presented adventure.
It's been a long timesince I played an original point'n'click that I enjoyed this much. If you are a fan of the genre, or of fantasy in general, do NOT miss this one. With a wonderful atmosphere reminiscent of the very best adventure games and an entertaining script that begs for a sequel, The Book of Unwritten Tales reminds me why I fell in love with point'n'click games in the first place.
(9s represent excellence. Any issues it may have are minor or easily forgiven for what is a fantastic experience.)
|Dave Herrington is an aspiring writer, movie enthusiast, failed superhero and gamer. He writes from his house/cave near Oxford, England, and enjoys watching just about anything in good company. His favourite thing ever is Calvin & Hobbes, and hopes they never make a movie out of it. Or else.|