The Book of Unwritten Tales

 

Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   King Art Games

Publisher:    Lace Mamba (English version)

Released:  October 2011 (English version)

PC Requirements:   see review

Walkthrough    Additional screenshots

 

 

 

by gremlin

 

What is it?

Story is 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.)

Some facts 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 plot?

If you 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.

Between 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 resurrection too.

How do you play?

For the 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.

The puzzles 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 puzzles.

There are 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 separate inventories.

Notable Features

Ooh, where to begin?

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.

The colour 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.

But the 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!)

Of course, 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.

Any other novelties?

There are 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.

Oddities

I did 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.

Conclusions

You might 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!

Grade: A

What do you need to play it?

Minimum Requirements

  • Windows XP SP3, Vista or Windows 7.
  • Pentium IV 2GHz / Athlon 2.4 GHz
  • 1GB RAM Windows XP, or 2 GB RAM Vista or Windows 7.
  • 6GB free disc space
  • Direct-X 9c compatible video card with 128MB RAM, PixelShader 2.0.

Recommended Requirements

  • Windows XP SP3, Vista or Windows 7.
  • 3GHz CPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 6GB free disc space
  • Direct-X 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)

November 2011

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