The Book of Unwritten Tales


posted 8/20/2012 by Mike Mahardy
other articles by Mike Mahardy
Platforms: PC
The point-and-click adventure has become a niche genre in the almost two decades since its heyday. Physics engines and the nature of their games have usurped the puzzle game throne, bringing about a host of new players. While the variety of possibilities associated with games like Portal and Quantum Conundrum are undeniably vast, there is no lack of depth in what The Book of Unwritten Tales brings to the table.

This five-chapter epic is German developer King Art’s love letter to more than just the classic adventure game. Allusions to popular fantasy sagas permeate the story that unfolds before the player. The game has no lack of originality though; every obvious reference to Lord of the Rings or Star Wars is accompanied by a whimsical humor that defines the tone of the entire title. Every character brings something different on the quest, extending the personalities past mere archetypes. The gnome Wilbur and his timidity are juxtaposed against the narcissism of the human Captain Nate. Elven Ivo and her avian friend Tschiep Tschiep flesh out the roster along with the Pixar-esque creature simply named “Critter.” Not only will every main character resonate with the player long after the curtains close, but so too will the supporting cast. King Art’s ability to merge humor with plot progress is apparent throughout the entire tale.

Along the path of the journey laid out before the player, it’s clear that the game shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The title is interesting in the fact that it provides a lighthearted overall experience, but also memorable fragments that will inevitably be ingrained in the player’s mind for a long time. This isn’t a bad thing, if done right, and King Arts does it right. A subtle sense of social criticism never surpasses the obvious, but the developers made sure to present it in a relatable way.    

One particularly brilliant scene in Unwritten Tales finds Wilbur learning the rules of an RPG titled World of Bureaucracy, wherein the players participate in exhilarating activities such as tax filing and license renewal. A mage instructor and centaur merchant applaud WoB’s ability to entice them with gargantuan quest logs, but scold the server’s inability to maintain a game without lag. Without spoiling too much, the puzzle tasks Wilbur with disrupting the server long enough to have a decent conversation with the men. This sequence is not only a satirical view of online gaming tropes, but a clever way to incorporate gameplay as well.

Not only do the personalities convey a well-written depth of characterization, but they translate well into the gameplay, too. I often found myself clicking on the same object with different characters just to hear their disparate observations. This confluence of enjoyable writing and engaging gameplay lends itself well to players who have only experienced the more modern puzzle games.

At a certain point in the game, the player will begin utilizing more than one character at a time. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each character will allow the player to solve some of the more difficult puzzles, even if these are few and far between. Because of the nature of point-and-click games, the majority of puzzles in Tales revolve around acute observation rather than deep thought. In this respect, the game falls short. The obstacles presented to the player can usually be hurdled with a combination of exploring every nook of the screen and speaking to everyone possible. These banal sequences mitigate the excellent pacing a large part of the game displays. The few puzzles that require item combination and ancient riddles are the ones that drive the player forward. If the game had engaged the player mentally throughout the entertaining story, a more satisfying experience would have emerged.

The game can run on relatively low-end PC’s, and it shows over the course of the story. The character models are appropriate and well designed, but the textures don’t cope with movement or environmental interaction. Every area is gorgeous and varied, but the characters often appear robotic instead of lifelike. The player will soon forget about these minor complaints when the puzzle solving begins, but a closer look at the game itself may prove less enlightening.

In a market inhabited by addictive multiplayer and fast-paced firefights, developer King Arts has accomplished something truly remarkable with A Book of Unwritten Tales. They have taken an old formula and successfully adapted it for players with a more modern palate. For those who have been yearning for a return to the classic adventure games of the 1990s, I can’t think of a more welcome return. For players completely new to the point-and-click adventure, there is no better place to start. There have been titles attempting to show that the genre is still alive, but A Book of Unwritten Tales undisputedly proves it.              
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