The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles

Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   King Arts Games

Publisher:  Nordic Games   The Adventure Company

Released:  December 2012

PC Requirements:   see review below

Walkthrough

 

 

by gremlin

  

What is it?

It seems that games journalists are constantly bemoaning the saturation of the games market with sequels: publishers know what has worked in the past, so assume that the same will work in the future. Okay, a reasonably fair, but boring, assumption. But I'm not going to bang on about sequels here; the Book of Unwritten Tales, The Critter Chronicles is a prequel.

If you've played the first Book of Unwritten Tales, you'll remember Captain Nathaniel Bonnet (Nate) and 'Critter', two of the characters you get to play alongside Ivo (the elf princess) and Wilbur (the gnome inventor). This new game is the story of how Nate and Critter met and came to be travelling together by the time of the first... erm, ...second... erm, ...original game. Prequels just confuse me. Curse you, George Lucas!

Of course, the Critter Chronicles was developed by King Art; the inventive German team that came up with these intriguing characters in the first place. Consequently, it is not surprising that the graphic design and the overall tone of the Critter Chronicles is very similar to the original Book.  Some of the locations even make a comeback.

Is there a plot?

The story of the Critter Chronicles begins with a confrontation between Nate and Ma'Zaz (the orc mercenary bounty-hunter from the Book of Unwritten Tales) over an airship that Nate has 'liberated' from the Red Pirate by winning her in a card game. Ma'Zaz has been hired to recover the airship, and Nate just wants to escape to a life where nobody tells him what to do any more. These goals seem to be somewhat at odds, and both protagonists are armed with cannon... except that Nate appears to be slightly under-supplied with ammunition, which is where you take over.

The rest of the plot revolves around a crash on an ice plain, and Nate's efforts to escape the crash site, whilst learning about his more altruistic side. We get to meet Petra, an animal rights activist and vegomaniac, Cornelius Happleflapp, a yeti hunter, Critter and his family, and Munkus and his Black Guards. Munkus is one of the characters returning from the Book of Unwritten Tales, and it is he that Nate and Critter ultimately have to overcome to rescue Critter's family and to escape from the ice.

I counted roughly 16 locations in the Critter Chronicles. Some are single screens, others more panoramic, but all are detailed and full of 'stuff' going on. The aforementioned places that make a comeback from the Book of Unwritten Tales are connected with the Archmage's tower - a particularly mindbending set of locations that are considerably more complex and more fully realised than they were in the Book.

How do you play?

As with the Book of Unwritten Tales, the Critter Chronicles is a third person point and click adventure. The controls are simple; the mouse is used for everything, and the cursor changes image to indicate hotspots. You can press the space bar to show all the hotspots in a scene, and you'll find that some of the hotspots are only good for one or two clicks - these are descriptive points that add colour, rather than key plot points. You mostly play the game from the perspective of Nate Bonnet, but there are times when Critter is also available.

Your inventory of items pops up when you move the mouse to the bottom centre of the screen. Click on an item to select it, or right-click to hear what Nate or Critter have to say about it. Nate and Critter have independent inventories, but you can pass items between the two of them quite easily. There are also times when inventory items have to be combined which is just a simple click and drag operation.

Conversations are also handled with a menu in the bottom part of the screen, but that menu only pops up when there are choices to be made. The conversation tree is not complex, but it is amusing in places. I do miss two elements from the Book however, and those are Wilbur's lovely Welsh accent, and the frequent real-world references that peppered the former game. Or maybe I'm just too slow and dim-of-wit for them this time around?

Any novelties?

The most unusual element in the Critter Chronicles is that it's an adventure game with levels of difficulty. At the start of the game, you choose Normal or Hard mode. Hard mode is subtly changed with respect to Normal mode such that some of the puzzles require more steps to solve. For example, (this isn't in the game, but illustrates the difference) let's say that you need some bread to feed the ducks; in Normal mode, you'll find the bread in the bakery, but in Hard mode, you'll have to go through, say, three extra steps to make the bread in the bakery first. Not all puzzles are like this, but a few are.

The other novelty is that this is the first mainstream Steam game I've reviewed that is released on Windows PC, Apple Mac and Ubuntu Linux right from the get-go. It's really good to see that Steam have finally made this commitment to broadening the expectations for the platforms that games should support. This finally allows me to think seriously about making Linux my principal operating system. I'm sure others will find the same is true, though I would not say this in any way indicates that everyone should be considering such a switch.

Oddities

One of the aspects of the Book of Unwritten Tales with which I was less than overwhelmed was the struggle to understand Critter. Once Critter is involved in the new game, it is a continual battle to understand his nonsense, though I do see that there's a consistency in his speech that makes it decodable. That's just not fun.

The other part of the culture of Steam games, aside from the digital downloads and Linux support, is that they encourage games to be punctuated with Achievements. These are goals like 'Complete the first Chapter on Normal' and 'Complete the first Chapter on Hard'. Given the reasonably linear nature of this kind of story-led adventure game, it seems to me that Achievements like this are quite pointless - you cannot complete the game without obtaining most of them along the way. What's more, there's no indication whilst you're playing that you're Achieving, you only find out when you've finished your session and end up back in your Steam library. I say leave the Achievements for the stuff that's not on the critical path through the game.

My final complaint with respect to the Critter Chronicles is that Nate is a whinger. He complains all the time. He's often sorry for himself and the situations he finds himself in, or gets himself into. He was definitely my least favourite of the main characters from the Book; even Critter, with his nonsense speech, is less annoying than Nate Bonnet.

Conclusions

When I played the Book of Unwritten Tales I was left with a silly grin on my face after almost every session of play. It's disappointing that although the Critter Chronicles maintains the artistic and technical quality of the Book, they've chosen to concentrate in the new game on the lesser of the main characters from the previous one. There are no bugs, no horribly difficult and obscure puzzles (I only needed help from a walkthrough for one step where I was being particularly dense), and the production values in the game are just as highly polished as the Book. It was just not as much fun. And therein lies the reasoning for my completely subjective grading.

Grade:  B-

What do you need to play it?

PC Requirements:

OS: Windows XP SP3, Vista, 7, 8

Processor: 2.4 GHz, 3GHz recommended

Memory: 1 GB RAM

Graphics: DirectX 9c compatible graphics card with 128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended), Pixelshader 2.0

DirectX«: 9.0c

Hard Drive: 6 GB HD space

 

Mac Requirements:

OS: Mac OS X 10.6 / 10.7 / 10.8

Processor: 2.4 GHz Intel Mac Core Duo

Memory: 1500 MB RAM

Graphics: Intel GMA-950 graphics card with 256MB VRAM or better

Hard Drive: 6 GB HD space

 

Linux Requirements:

OS: Ubuntu 12.04 or above

Processor: 2.4 GHz, 3GHz recommended

Memory: 1 GB RAM

Graphics: OpenGL compatible graphic card with 128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended), Pixelshader 2.0

Hard Drive: 6 GB HD space

(I used a home-built 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium PC running on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual 5200+ processor, with 6 GB RAM, and a Sapphire Radeon HD4670 512MB video card, with on-mother-board, built-in sound card)

 

The game can be bought from The Adventure Shop or Game homepage.

 

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