The Book of Unwritten Tales is a Point and Click adventure game, not an RPG. To quote the trailer: “Story! Puzzles! Humour! … It’s not about muscles, it’s about brains. Players use their heads. They have to unravel mysteries and solve riddles; it’s an enthralling adventure… you can’t even die.” It’s wonderful to find a game that understands the genre so much.
The Book of Unwritten Tales will give a nostalgic glow to old-schoolers and is a great introduction to adventure games. It is reminiscent of classics like Monkey Island & Simon the Sorcerer except with modern graphics and less obscure puzzles. It is suitable for children and whilst some of the puzzles may be a little obvious there are definitely head-scratchers as well. The thing that makes the puzzles ‘easier’ than others in the genre I could mention is that they are more straight-forward and logical, rather than ridiculous and obtuse, which is not bad thing. Out of the three listed: Story, Puzzles and Humour the latter two are definitely the strongest elements of the game, the first the weakest. But two out of three ain’t bad.
The game admits the story is cliché, reflecting its self-aware humour. The plot is the Big Bad Evil Dude et al is after a powerful magical artefact and our heroes have to stop him. The humour comes thick and fast with back-to-back pop-culture references and a few forth-wall breaks. In some sections they may be a little over done, but in general the humour is top-notch particularly as the voice acting is very high-caliber. They really made sure everyone – major and minor characters – were voiced superbly. It pokes fun at a lot of RPG and fantasy tropes. It’s not really a spoiler to say that Wilbur the gnome gets a magic ring as part of his quest in a parallel to Frodo from The Lord of the Rings.
The visual design fits the mood of the game with expressive, cartoony characters. It feels a lot like a 2D adventure game with the way you explore environments being, well, two-dimensional, even if it’s rendered in 3D. There is a combination of fixed camera areas for you to explore, and 3d side-scrolling, and a few with top-down views.
As is the nature of point-and-click adventure games you can examine everything and they all come with a, usually witty, description. Examining things multiple times can reveal bonus ‘easter egg’ dialogue particularly if you examine things with different characters (you get given a total of 4 during the course of the game). This can make examining objects for clues less tedious and more entertaining particularly as you often need to do so several times in order to figure puzzles out. The system of pressing the space bar to highlight active (interactable) objects in the world also works well and stops you pixel-hunting. It also disables items once they’re not relevant, stopping you from wasting time with them as ‘red herrings’ and making puzzles a little easier. However, on the flip side, some items will not become active until you speak to a character and they tell you they need it, so you can’t pre-empt them and will have to back track to get it. In some cases where the item you need is painfully obvious this feels like irritating, needless backtracking, although it perhaps makes more narrative sense than picking up every random thing you find and throwing them at everyone you meet.
The characters are very winning and witty, particularly Wilbur being the cleverest (although Nate has his moments too). Ivo didn’t win me over quite so much. The side characters, too, are very memorable and funny. Early on you meet a Mummy who keeps calling you ‘Mortimer’, Death (in pink fluffy slippers) is a good fellow too, and a two-headed Troll who disagrees with himself on whether it’s lunchtime. My favourites though had to be the Earth Pixies. “WUUZAA! WUUZAA!”
This is definitely a ‘hidden gem.’ I came across this game by chance and am surprised that more of a fuss hasn’t been made about it. Perhaps it is the curse of the small studio that they can’t generate quite as much hype. The Book of Unwritten Tales strikes a nice balance between nostalgia for the old point-and-click adventure games and re-imagining the genre for the modern gamer. Given time I would not be surprised if it were considered a classic. I just can’t express what a joy it is to play a game that makes you chuckle all the way through.
There is also a Sequel The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, which I have yet to play but is purported to be of equal quality. The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles, a prequel story (I think) has been generally received less well.