The point and click genre was in its heyday in the 1990’s. The emphasis remained on telling an interesting story through unique characters, imaginative locations and often perplexing puzzles. Once you’d gone through the game once you knew exactly how things would unfold each time, but the journey was often so engrossing and full of life it made up for replay value with unforgettable stories.
In recent years the genre has surged back into popularity, showing audiences are once again looking to go to a fantastic new world and see what strange wonders await. The Book of Unwritten Tales surfaced 2009 and told the story of some unlikely heroes rising to the challenge presented to their world. Now six years later German game developer King Art looks to build upon their story and show how these characters have changed.
The first thing that really struck me is this is the first Adventure game I’d played that had a tutorial in the beginning. Right clicking on an item examines it and left clicking uses the item. They’re both contextual, in that the character will do or think what seems to make sense to them. Sounds obvious, but when you’re taking control of multiple characters it really helps to flesh out their personalities, as well as give more hints to the solving the puzzles. Another feature which really stands out is the identifying markers. Pressing the space button reveals all the inetractables in a scene, preventing users from doing what’s known as a pixel hunt; wandering the screen with the mouse looking for that one little spot that may contain that one little item which will help them progress. These little hint tactics are designed to ease new players into the genre and keep the momentum going.
Playing the game however I found a very strong split between accessibility and challenge. While the story does have some heft to it, overall gameplay time is determined by how long a player will spend solving the puzzles. You would think with a simple interface and plenty of clues a seasoned adventure gamer would breeze through the story. I found however that even with the leaps of logic previous games in the genre have forced me to make I still found the process challenging. The game requires you to make some far out realizations to keep things going. Early in the game I was tasked with acquiring money to pay for a ride out of my situation. The game hinted that the cost would be a pot of gold. This is something they were explaining literally. In the end the logic involved scaring a tree with wood working horror stories so its leaves would create shade over a spewing fountain, causing a rainbow to appear which you could then dig underneath to find the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Makes sense in hindsight, but casual and seasoned players alike may find themselves frustrated with the logical leaps required.
The story and world however are bright and detailed, with lots of lore and references entwined. There are plenty of Fantasy staples. Elves, gnomes, Genies in lamps, all of these are concrete and known. The game then has a few odd ball creatures thrown in to spice things up, but many of the tropes and clichés are present. Elves live away from society aloof and immortal. The main Human hero is a rogue with cocky tendencies. The Gnomes are tinkers and tricksters creating wonderful inventions. The game does a good job of using these established ideas to both draw players in and subvert some of their expectations.
There is also a heavy serving of tongue in cheek references to almost every popular fantasy franchise to grace our imaginations. Here is where the game will really shine for avid fans of different universes. Tucked away in little corners are artefacts of legend, everything from Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons, Game of Thrones to Minecraft. It’s all in good fun and spotting them all is a game in itself. There is even a puzzle which requires a unique approach on time travel, where scenes in the past are lovingly rendered to look like Point and click games from a couple of decades ago. It’s a definite tug at the heart strings of the seasoned adventure gamer, but may leave new players lost or disinterested. In many ways this is Unwritten Tales strongest feature, but deepest weakness. Gamers well versed will revel in the dozens of in jokes and find themselves deeper drawn. Casual encounters may be put off by several jokes that fall flat and a game trying to spend too much time living in a universe that is not its own.
There were a few times some minor graphical glitches and animations took me out of the mood and a few references and voices that made me cringe but the overall the presentation is very strong. The worlds are bright and colourful and the characters are varied in personality and motivation. The tone never goes too heavy, but you can feel the weight each of them carries. It feels good knowing a once considered dead genre has gained new life, and there are still many tales to tell. The future is unwritten, but if we have titles similar to this one in quality available we’ll be looking for new Tales to tell far into the future.
PROS – Lots of humour and fantasy references, Button which shows all interactive items on screen
CONS – Some awkward voice acting and animations, Standard Fantasy clichés
Score - 75%