The Book of Unwritten Tales is a point-and-click, fantasy RPG adventure game that is modelled after fan-favourites in the genre; namely Monkey Island and Simon the Sorcerer, with the customary irreverence and jocularity you’d expect from such such a parody, peppered with pop culture references. And what’s more, it’s now available for digital download, three years after its initial German release.
The stage for the story is set in the magical land of Aventasia – a place filled with clichés that are ripe for plundering. In the midst of the raging war that is tearing the land apart, a wizened old gremlin that looks like Yoda’s older, big-eared brother, by the name of Mortimer MacGuffin happens upon the discovery of an artefact that has the potential to turn the tide of battle in favour of those who possess it. He soon gets kidnapped – because who wants to spend their time playing as what is essentially a large green raisin with eyes – leaving a lithe, beautiful elf-woman to do the heavy lifting, climbing and general bending over. And so the fun begins!
The elf maiden is one of four unlikely heroes who are thrown together by fate, drawn in against their own will, against their better judgement, succumbing to their longing for adventure, or just because they’re the Chewbacca to The Book of Unwritten Tales’ Han Solo. All four are playable characters in the game and as well as Ivo, the smoking-hot elf princess, there’s Wilbur the gnome, Nate the narcissistic adventurer and his furry friend Critter who has the misfortune of possibly being mistaken for Nate’s manly appendage when first introduced.
Each character’s background grants them capabilities that differ according to their individual strengths and weaknesses; Nate can interact with and utilise heavy items, Ivo has the agility of a mountain goat, Wilbur is a gnome who has shunned the traditional study of mechanics and machinery in favour of magic, but retains enough know-how to cobble together a gadget when needed and Critter is one of the best original characters to pop up in recent years. Also he’s pink and furry which nets him bonus points.
At the outset, only a single character at a time is playable, but as the story unfolds the player is able to control up to three protagonists in the same scenario and switch between them to solve multi character puzzles. At certain junctures, the choice is presented to choose between the heroes and continue on a solitary path, opening up the option to spend extra time with your favourite.
The puzzles range from the blatantly obvious to the mildly complex and can be solved by basic common sense or, if that fails, clicking wildly around the screen in each area hoping to elicit some kind of response from the character. Interaction with objects can become frustrating when you have to wait for the character to identify and then give a small seminar on the item in question, but this issue is exacerbated when, having painstakingly combed an area, you later return to retrieve a trinket after a trigger event that you were previously unable to interact with. The inventory system is set up to automatically remove items once they have had their single use, so this seems an unnecessary mechanic seemingly tossed in to add a bit more longevity to the proceedings.
Whilst there are few minor frustrations, KING Art have excelled in nailing the funny bone and coming out an inch on the other side; the humour is a perfect fit for the genre, breaking the fourth wall for funny asides, or to openly mock the player. Allusions to terrifying rollercoasters of adventures that happen in the few moments a character is off screen (like Wilbur’s foray into the land of the dead by way of a magic mirror), or a couple of misfits playing an MMO fantasy RPG that in their world involves such whimsical activities as paying taxes and popping down to the DMV, create memorable moments that will draw a smile. Unassuming loose ends flapping innocently will suddenly find themselves drawn up into a neat little bow to form the punch line of a gag you didn’t even see coming, it had that innocuous of an beginning. It’s the time taken to weave subtle elements of comedy into the script through situations and payoffs, combined with the nods and outright spoofs to classis fantasy and sci-fi books and movies that makes The Book of Unwritten Tales such an hilarious homage with references ranging from Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Lord of the Rings and WoW, to Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
The German developer has stepped up to the challenge of making an utterly charming and engaging contribution to the genre and they haven’t dropped the ball when it comes to aesthetics either. The art is colourful and warm, with rich texture and lighting. The style harkens back to Monkey Island, and the unexpected top-down shots add another element to gameplay. The voice acting is good, if a little stiff at times from Nate. But it’s Wilbur that steals the show, in his Simon-esque wizard’s robes. His ineptitude and naivety create a vulnerable yet comical hero and his Welsh accent is the icing on the cake.
The Book of Unwritten Tales should have a place in your digital library if you have a passing interest in point-and-click adventure games; despite the occasional blip of annoyance at certain mechanics or the lack of a sense of urgency in spots, it looks great, it’ll make you laugh and it’ll last for around 15 – 20 hours, which is already better than most dates. So head on down to Steam (or Origin – I’m not biased) and get that 4BG download started.
The Book of Unwritten Tales is available on most digital distribution platforms now for £17.99 / $19.99 and is currently enjoying a 10% discount. With the point-and-click genre making a welcome return to the mainstream and the possibility of the prequel, The Critter Cronicles, on the horizon, what are you waiting for?