By Marty Mulrooney
The Book of Unwritten Tales is an acclaimed point-and-click adventure game created by German developer King Art. Set in a humorous fantasy land, the game features four playable characters: the little gnome Wilbur, the elf princess Ivo, a human adventurer named Nate and his furry friend Critter. Together, these unlikely heroes must defeat the Army of the Shadows and protect a powerful artefact that could determine the fate of the entire world. Alongside the brand new English language translation, publisher Lace Mamba Global have released the UK retail edition with some additional extras inside the box, including a 36 page art book, a soundtrack CD and a double-sided A2 artwork poster.
The Book of Unwritten Tales begins with aged gremlin archaeologist Mortimer MacGuffin – who looks a lot like Yoda and sounds uncannily like film actor Liam Neeson – being kidnapped by the evil Munkus, son of Mortroga. MacGuffin may have finally discovered the ‘key’ that will end the long-raging war between the dark Army of the Shadows and the Alliance of free people – a legendary artefact that grants its owner unlimited power.
The player initially takes control of the fearless elf princess Ivo, who witnesses MacGuffin being abducted and bravely jumps onto Mukus’ transport dragon to rescue him. This exciting opening sequence immediately helps familiarise the player with the gameplay mechanics and controls. Right clicking lets you look at an object, whilst left clicking interacts with it if possible. Holding down the spacebar shows all available hotspots. The inventory is accessible by hovering the mouse pointer down towards the bottom of the screen. This control scheme will of course be familiar to any keen adventure gamer, but King Art have implemented it so slickly that it feels surprisingly fresh.
The majority of the game – at least initially – is spent playing as Wilbur, a kindly gnome who dreams of one day becoming a real hero. He starts off working at a pub in a dwarf bastion at the foot of the Whitcomb Mountains, but will eventually become a fully licensed mage. Watching Wilbur grow as a character as the game progresses is an absolute delight – his soft, genuine Welsh accent is always a pleasure to hear and he makes for a unique, memorable protagonist.
The elf princess Ivo is also lots of fun to play as and sounds rather pleasant, although human adventurer Nate can sometimes grate with his never-ending stream of overly cruel comments and sexist remarks – it doesn’t help that he is also the most inconsistently voice acted. He does become more likeable by the end but he never manages to endear like his co-stars. His friend Critter, on the other hand, is so much fun to control that it really is a shame that he only becomes available towards the end of the game for a relatively short amount of time. At first these characters are controlled separately, but many of the later sections will see the player controlling a combination of two or three of the heroes all together at once.
The puzzles start off easy – encouraging swift progression – but eventually the difficulty does ramp up. Thankfully, the puzzle design is largely excellent, with objectives made clear and solutions mostly remaining logical throughout. There are still some head-banging moments – mostly times where the game stops you from doing something too early for seemingly no good reason at all – but these moments are few and far between.
The backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous and offer some of the most varied, well-designed adventure game environments the genre has been treated to in quite some time. By contrast, the detailed characters are overlaid in 3D and it comes as no surprise that this is where the graphics often stumble – animations occasionally look crude or unconvincing. Yet the overall effect still looks fantastic – if you can look beyond the outdated FMV cutscenes that bookend the game and the odd moment where the animation doesn’t quite convince, you will be treated to one of the most visually pleasing adventure games released in recent years. The rousing orchestral score – coupled with some stellar voice acting that isn’t simply overrun with American voice actors for once – certainly helps to smooth over any cracks.
In terms of value for money, The Book of Unwritten Tales undoubtedly delivers. My playthrough took over 15 hours and I was never seriously stuck at any point. The player is constantly exploring throughout the game’s five huge chapters, visiting a sunken underwater temple, chatting with ghosts in a crypt and even going into business with the Grim Reaper – who it turns out wears fluffy bunny slippers! – to offer the public the opportunity to participate in live burials. The humour is great and the translation is strong enough to keep all of the jokes firmly intact. However, the subtitles have a few spelling mistakes and don’t always match what is being spoken.
Sadly, although The Book of Unwritten Tales offers an admirable length of play, the final levels do lack some of the magic of what has gone before. The puzzles become more illogical towards the end and the ending itself is anticlimactic and sudden – a trend that has bugged me about the genre since The Curse of Monkey Island. Another problem is the fact that the game so obviously parodies other epic fantasy stories such as Lord of the Rings. The fine line between homage, parody and outright copying is often blurred and it’s difficult to discern whether The Book of Unwritten Tales is truly original or simply derivative.
Despite these issues, The Book of Unwritten Tales is one of the most enjoyable adventure games to have been released in a very long time. Little has been lost in the translation from German to English and the voice acting is superb. Many adventure games struggle to hold the player’s interest nowadays, but The Book of Unwritten Tales succeeds admirably at entertaining whether you are in control of Wilbur, Ivo, Nate or Critter. The developers are obviously huge fans of the genre and their passion shines through. A lengthy, high quality point-and-click adventure game full of fun exploration, genuine laughs and well thought-out puzzles.
9 OUT OF 10
AMO’s review copy of The Book of Unwritten Tales was provided by Lace Mamba Global. The UK retail release (recommended retail price: £24.99) contains the full game, a 36 page art book, a soundtrack CD and a double-sided A2 artwork poster.