The Book of Unwritten Tales begins with a “spirited leap” onto the back of a dragon and doesn’t let go till the very end, 20-odd hours later.
The action in the game is third-person point-and-click. You play as a number of characters throughout the game: the gnome Wilbur Weathervane, elvish Princess Ivo, Nate the human buccaneer, or his creature Critter who is a…creature.
Some videogames have annoying and repetitive music and voices. This is not the case with The Book of Unwritten Tales. The few times when I had to play in a quiet area, I got my headphones so I didn’t miss a moment.
In fact, the music and vocal work are truly exceptional, the soundtrack nuanced with believable sound effects. Unlike some games that force two voice actors to create five or six different voices, this game has a sizable vocal cast of about a dozen and you can tell as you encounter people throughout the world.
The visuals are five-star, a dizzying array of locales. There are icy mountains, underground caverns, and dark forests.
The pacing of the plot is dynamic and keeps you interested. The puzzles range in challenge from easy to ‘scratch your head difficult.’ The game raises the difficulty by disguising objects so perfectly into the background that you can’t perceive them.
Several mini-games require a series of quick key presses to progress, which creates a little urgency in a linear game since you cannot progress otherwise. Like most adventure games, the player has to combine unexpected elements. Fasten the rubber chicken to the torture device to create a makeshift slingshot? Check.
You also often have to switch characters during cooperative play as you often need to use a character’s specific skill to solve a puzzle.
Lots of humor is written into both the dialogue and the tiny reaction animations. The designers don’t take anything too seriously; a great deal is tongue-in-cheek. There are countless gaming and geek references: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Advanced Dungeon & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, Magic: the Gathering, Mission Impossible…and those are just the ones I caught on the first go-thru.
Not only are there countless references in-game, but also musical jokes to those attuned to the soundtrack. Early in the game, Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” starts playing to underscore with ominous bassoon a risky venture by the main gnome. I often found myself laughing out loud.
If you are not a fan of puns, some of the humor in the game may strike you the wrong way (i.e. you encounter a cast-iron safe for saved games). On the other hand, who can resist cheeky talking termites with a Cockney accent? “Get out of our sun, homeotherm!”
The game, however, is not without a few issues. The animation to switch characters is odd; they half walk in a circle around each other to swap instead of instantaneously, which gets old when you have to constantly switch. The same half-circle happens when going in and out of doorways and entrances. Though the script is very good, the last few lines of dialogue in the game are in untranslated German. It was an odd way to finish, but a small mar of the face of an otherwise excellent game-playing experience.
Some lessons to take away from The Book of Unwritten Tales:
• Don’t tee off the trolls.
• If you can’t see the solution to the puzzle, it’s likely under your nose.
• Individually, tiny creatures are no threat. Collectively, they can cart you off and toss you into the bushes.
The Book of Unwritten Tales definitely gives you your money’s worth. The game is presented as a book, divided into five chapters. I’m quite adept at adventure games and I found myself stuck in several places for a day or two. I opted not to use the walk-thru, as that takes all the fun out of it.
As with any good tale, I did not want it to end and didn’t want to leave these characters behind. Does plucky little Wilbur have the courage to venture forth and be a true mage? Do Ivo and Nate end up floating off into their own sunset in a gnome balloon? Well, I’ll let you play and write the story on your own.
There are strong hints of a sequel—“Maybe there’s another adventure out there for us,” says Wilbur—and there’s definitely room for more creative adventure games like The Book of Unwritten Tales.
You can also buy the full game as a digital download for only $29.99.
The Book of Unwritten Tales is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB