The Book of Unwritten Tales review
Thanks to successful Kickstarters like Double Fine Adventure, Tex Murphy — Project Fedora, and Jane Jensen’s Moebius, adventure games are on people’s radars again. With the support of thousands of backers, new technology and resources, and more than enough funding to get them started, the developers behind these campaigns are hoping to accomplish what they never could before. Kickstarter might be a new mecca for the industry, but that doesn’t mean the entire adventure genre is buzzing around the platform.
Publisher Nordic Games and German developer King Art (The Critter Chronicles) have released The Book of Unwritten Tales on Steam and GOG.com. The point-and-click ($19.99) was a runaway hit in Europe and especially Germany, making it the best-selling adventure game of 2009. It garnered rave reviews then, and today, it’s still one of the best modern adventure games you can find.
Forget everything you think you know about adventure games. If you’re not hot on them or haven’t played a single one in your life, The Book of Unwritten Tales will change that. Drawing its inspiration from classic fantasies like The Lord of the Rings — you play as a gnome who must deliver a special ring (The Ring, actually) to the human Arch-Mage for safekeeping — Unwritten Tales springboards into its own enchanting and memorable tale about Wilbur Weathervane, a gnome who dreams of becoming a real hero; Ivo, a limber, redheaded elf who travels with a small exotic bird; and the airship captain and seasoned treasure hunter Nate, who pilots The Mary and keeps a weird fuzzy creature called Critter for company.
The genuine humor and excellent voice-acting in Unwritten Tales is what sets it apart from other games. Actually listen to the dialogue as the actors perform it, and you’ll enjoy every minute of rich and playful back-and-forths sprinkled with pop culture references and meta-references to MMOs and the game’s famous peers, like The Secret of Monkey Island.
In traditional adventure game fashion, you’ll need to talk to characters to access new plot developments while you search for and combine seemingly random items. King Art has put love and care into every colorful backdrop, every whimsical personality — from the morose and bunny slippers-wearing Death to the fat and loud-mouthed town guard of Seastone, Mr. Shieldhand — and every description and interaction. You’ll meet two-headed ogres, orc bounty hunters, and even a hilarious talking warrior set of legendary origin.
Graphics-wise, Unwritten Tales still impresses, and largely because of its attention to color and detail. Minor technical problems do arise when switching from one character to another during play in select segments of the game: The characters will fumble over one another occasionally, especially during “The Sunken Temple” chapter, and exiting a scene or interrupting a movement too early can cause little glitches. You won’t think too much of them, though. They’re harmless bugs that won’t mar the experience.
Puzzles are occasionally a bit tricky, but they’re fair, and most importantly, they make sense. You won’t be putting any kegs in fireplaces here. The space bar also helps greatly, highlighting all characters and objects that can be interacted with on-screen. It’s a convenient, time-saving tool when you’re stuck or want to speed through a section, but unfortunately, the game doesn’t make an effort to inform the player it’s even an option.
Unwritten Tales is an immeasurably enjoyable game, but it does suffer in pacing. The quests for single areas are long, and they’re often extremely involved. The game could have benefited from one or two more unique locales or simply abridged tasks, but the ones it does have are varied and interesting.
A few oddball puzzles test reflexes and luck over problem-solving skills — like pressing two-key combinations on time as they scroll past to pull off a godly wrath-invoking rain dance — but they’re a fun break from the normal slew of look-and-find gameplay, even if they do seem terribly out of place.
So before you explore the new world of adventure games that Kickstarter has made possible, do yourself a favor: Start with The Book of Unwritten Tales. As the end of the game hints, another adventure with Wilbur and crew could await.
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