What is it?
everything in an adventure game. Without it, there's no point in solving
the puzzles, and nothing to hang the experience upon as a player. Without
plot, there is no character development, and nothing to engage your funny
bone with either. On the other hand, stories don't have to be complex to
be engaging. There are, after all, only a limited number of plot shapes in
the human psyche.
So it is
that I approach The Book of Unwritten Tales, an adventure game with
some attractive looking promotional material, and a list of characters
that give a very knowing nod to the theory of storytelling. Who else would
name the quest-giving character MacGuffin, but someone who knows how
stories work? (A 'MacGuffin' in a story is that object that everyone is
after - the Holy Grail is the perfect example.)
first: The Book of Unwritten Tales is a point and click adventure;
the product of a German development house, King Art. It is published in
English by Lace Mamba, publishers of the recent remake of The Tales of
Monkey Island, and Gray Matter. The German version was actually
released in April 2009, so it seems they've taken their time getting it
right for the English release.
Is there a
remember a few paragraphs back, I mentioned the importance of story to an
adventure game? Well, The Book of Unwritten Tales (enough of that
long name, already: BoUT will have to do from here on!) really does
prove to be an exemplar of that statement. The central thread of the plot
focuses upon the search for ... well, now, that would be telling, wouldn't
it? Anyhow, there's a very important object (I know, let's call it, a
MacGuffin, for now), that everyone wants. A certain gremlin knows where it
is, and he's not really telling, even under threat of torture. Whilst
being transported to the evil Queen's tower on the back of a dragon, the
gremlin manages to set an elf, Ivodora Eleanora Clarissa ('Ivo' to the
rest of us), and a gnome, Wilbur Weathervane, separately on the trail of
the, uh, MacGuffin. Of course, the elves don't normally concern themselves
with the troubles of the mortal races, and the gnome is just a small town
boy (or is that a 'small, town-boy'? Ba-dum tish!) with dreams of becoming
the hero of an epic adventure.
them, they travel across the world, picking up Nathaniel Bonnet and
'Critter' along the way, struggling to explore hidden locations, learning
sorcery, dodging fights with trolls, two-headed ogres, orcs, dragons,
zombies, ghosts, pink paladins, players of World of Businesscraft, and the
devotees of the cult of Wuuzaa. There is a death, a Death, and a
How do you
most part, the game is played as a traditional point 'n' click adventure
game. The menu structure is as you'd expect: continue game, new game, load
game, settings (graphics, sound and subtitles), and quit. Once in the game
proper, you have an active cursor which changes from an arrow, to a
magnifying glass, a hand (for picking something up), a wrench (for doing
something), a dialog bubble or an open door in order to indicate the
available action at a given hotspot. There's also a 'reveal all hotspots'
button: the space bar, which is very handy for when you think you've run
out of options.
vary from dialog puzzles (investigation, persuasion, and just plain
silly), through simple inventory collection and delivery, to item
combining and item manufacturing puzzles. There are two puzzles that the
coordination-challenged player may struggle with - a cookery problem
(which also involves some fairly subtle colour changes), and a dance
sequence - but there are no mazes or difficult sound-distinguishing
times when you can choose between playing as Wilbur, Ivo, Nate or Critter
(different characters are available in different parts of the game). Their
capabilities differ, and sometimes one character will find an inventory
item that they can't use, but that another one can use. This means that
you also have to transfer items between characters, because they maintain
The look of
it! The Book of Unwritten Tales is full of detailed locations with
all sorts of things going on. Dwarven halls, gnomish burrows, a gremlin's
home, a medieval town, a wizard's tower, a sunken Aztec-style temple,
dungeons, caves, swamps, forests, sewers, graveyards, a teepee, an orcish
fort, a fortuneteller's showground, and an evil Queen's open-air throne
room. Such a huge variety of detailed places.
palette King Art have chosen is not photorealistic, but not too cartoon-y.
Details are clear almost all of the time. There are a few scenes where
your viewpoint is very odd: some scenes are played from almost overhead,
others are side-scrolling areas. The game is described as 2-and-a-half-D,
rather than 3D. The variety worked for me, though the "double-click on the
exit" shortcut was quite a timesaver in some areas.
really strong part of the BoUT is the absolutely
brilliant voice acting. There are a wide variety of accents, mostly from
around the various parts of the British Isles (Scots, Irish, London,
Welsh, South-East England), a few from other parts of Europe, and a couple
from across the pond, from the USA. Of course, different accents appeal to
different people, so there's always a risk in giving a major character a
distinctive, unconventional accent, but I loved Wilbur's Welsh accent in
particular. (Having left Wales seven years ago, and having listened to the
accent for sixteen years prior to that, I must admit to a smidgeon of bias
there. So sue me!)
it's no good having good actors if the dialog stinks. The BoUT is
full of humour in the original language (German in this case... yes, they
do have a sense of humour, contrary to some stereotypes), so the
translation work must have been quite a challenge - jokes are notoriously
difficult to translate. However, I don't think there's any doubting that
they've succeeded most admirably. The English version is still packed with
one-liners and subtle references (and some not so subtle as well) to
role-playing games, hacker culture, online gaming, and fantasy stories.
I've not spent so many hours smiling in front of my PC in ages; the game
left me feeling happy, even when I was stuck.
And let me
say one more thing here before you start accusing me of going on just too
long: the music in the game is also very enjoyable. It is always a good
backdrop to the action sequences - dramatic scenes of derring-do - and
never distracting when you are listening to dialog. It's a (mostly)
orchestral score just doing its job really nicely.
lots and lots of puzzles and things to do in the BoUT, but few of
them were truly mind-bendingly difficult. It was almost always possible to
make progress, though sometimes an overnight break was a good idea to
bring fresh eyes to the problem at the next time of playing. In other
words, I found that there was just the right level of challenge to the
game, such that I didn't feel totally frustrated and locked out by it, but
neither did I feel it was entirely child's play.
suffer from a couple of technical glitches (one particular dialog caused
the game to crash completely, but it is avoidable) and there was one scene
almost at the end of the game where the German subtitles have survived the
localisation process. I hope these have been fixed in the release version.
If these are the only glitches in a game of this scale, though, I think
the developers have done a standout job.
Most of the
characters in the game are well developed, if unusual (a Pink Paladin?
well that's a first for me). However, I found Ivo to be somewhat flat and
whiney, especially on the subject of her people's potential reaction to
her involvement in the story. I'm not going to let a little bit of
character clashing bother me though, against the background of a game that
I've so enjoyed otherwise.
have spotted that I wrote a
First Look at The Book of Unwritten Tales for
GameBoomers a little while back, at the end of which I said that I was
putting BoUT on my wishlist for Christmas. Well, obviously
Christmas came a little early this year. Even so, I am seriously
considering putting a copy of BoUT on my wishlist anyway, and if
there were a collectors' edition, even more so.
This is an
excellent adventure game - one of the best I've played in many years, and
definitely deserving of a rare top grade, for Wilbur's lovely Welsh
accent, if for nothing else!
What do you
need to play it?
XP SP3, Vista or Windows 7.
IV 2GHz / Athlon 2.4 GHz
Windows XP, or 2 GB RAM Vista or Windows 7.
9c compatible video card with 128MB RAM, PixelShader 2.0.
XP SP3, Vista or Windows 7.
9c compatible video card with 256MB RAM, PixelShader 2.0.
(I used a
custom built 64-bit Vista Home Premium SP2 PC running on an AMD Athlon 64
X2 Dual 5200+, with 6 GB RAM, and a Sapphire Radeon HD4670 512MB video
card with mother-board sound card)