King ART The Book of Unwritten Tales 2
I didn't play the first Book of Unwritten Tales, which I'm now realizing was a mistake. I heard it mentioned a few times at release—mostly in the context of "There's this great point-and-click that came out!"—but never got around to playing it.
If it's anywhere near the quality of Book of Unwritten Tales 2, then shame on me.
Tell me another story
Made by King ART (the same studio that developed the charming-albeit-technically-flawed The Raven), Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a traditional point-and-click adventure set in a fantasy world made entirely of tropes. Wizardy Dumbledore character? Check. Elf princess? Dashing pirate lead? Gnomes? Zombies? Forces of immeasurable evil? A robot that looks like Wall-E? Check, check, check.
We can run down the entire checklist if you'd like. Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a game made up of cultural appropriation as much as it's a world of its own. Some dude who hated puns once said they're the "lowest form of wit," but he clearly never experienced the cultural miasma that is reference humor. As if by simply pointing at an object appropriated from some other story automatically makes it funny. "Remember this?" asks many storytellers, mistaking the warm thrill of nostalgia for genuine amusement.
Starting Book of Unwritten Tales 2, I was immediately wary. "Oh great, here's a room with a Companion Cube and a Minecraft sword and something that looks vaguely like Sully from Monsters, Inc." It's a pattern I've seen repeated a fair number of times lately, as with the incessant parade of geekery in Randal's Monday.
And it's normally contrived as hell. I guess that's what sets Book of Unwritten Tales 2 apart from some other recent games for me: It contextualizes its references better than most. Apart from a few obvious throwaways like the aforementioned room, Book of Unwritten Tales 2 feels like a world where this stuff makes sense—a world itself made up of the stories we know and love.
That doesn't mean it always lands. There are a few too many fourth-wall breaking moments, and it does that same thing I've been complaining about for months now: It makes fun of its own mechanical failings. Paraphrasing here, but a character will say something like, "Why do I have to jump through all these complicated hoops to get an item? Why can't you just give it to me?" with the implication that the designer is "in on the joke." I still maintain that this type of lampshading is lazy design, and it's really starting to grate now that I've seen it pop up in Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, Dying Light, and now this in just the last two months alone.
There's a warmth and love to Book of Unwritten Tales 2 that keeps it going through the rough patches though. An earnestness, almost. Were it not for some lewd humor, Book of Unwritten Tales 2 would feel like a kid's game. The cast—from elf princess Ivo to wannabe-debonair pirate Nate to friendly-but-fumbling Wilbur—embody a Pixar or Disney-esque "Believe in yourself and you can do anything" type of message that's much more understated (and pleasant) than the typical video game power fantasy.
If I have one complaint, it's that the game ends on a substantial cliffhanger—a dangerous proposition when King ART already turned to Kickstarter for this entry. Will we ever see a sequel? I certainly hope so, considering approximately half of the game's story threads are left dangling at the end.
On the other hand, the fact that I finished the game after 15 hours and still wanted more? That's a great (and rare) sign for me.
Now for how the game plays. I'm an outspoken critic of most point-and-click games thanks to the utter inanity of the puzzles. Book of Unwritten Tales 2 doesn't escape entirely unscathed—there were a few puzzles that had me turning to a walkthrough, and Chapter 5 had me gritting my teeth thanks to the inclusion of a punch-a-hole-in-my-bedroom-wall maze—but overall the puzzles are fairly logical (I'd liken it to another recent favorite, Memoria) and the game is good about prodding you in the right direction when you're stuck. Can't figure out what to do? Chances are talking to every character will solve your issue. In fact, sometimes that is the solution.
My main issue with the puzzle side of the game is the amount of travel you'll do. Each little piece of the story consists of probably 5-10 screens, and you'll wander back and forth between them a lot. Certain areas grant you a map you can use to fast travel around, and I wish that feature had been present for every section.
You can double-click an exit to make the game instantly fade into the next zone, but certain screens pan across to the exit as you move which makes this impossible. You have to walk partway through before the exit becomes visible. Once you've crossed the empty courtyard in the Elfburrow for the dozenth time, it starts to get old.
The game's hit-and-miss when it comes to both how it looks and sounds. The graphics are nothing special, but certain environments are prettier than others. Ironically, the last section (Chapter 5) has some of the best-looking environments in the game. (Typically games tend towards the opposite, looking worse as you go because the developers spent a lot more time and effort getting the first few hours perfect.)
Some of the voice acting is great. Other bits...not so much. The two-headed ogre is a real standout, as is the arch-mage. Overall though it's the voice-acting you'd expect from a B-tier endeavor, i.e. rough but passable.
And a quick word on glitches: I did hit a few, including one that forced me to exit to desktop and then restart. Occasionally some of the game's UI elements would break also, rendering weird or even rendering as just a red question mark. Nothing game-ruining, but small problems here and there that become as annoying as they are persistent.
I'll admit, despite a certain fondness for Grim Fandango and Longest Journey and games of that ilk, I've largely moved on from traditional point-and-click adventure games. The odd blend of moon-logic puzzles and story found in point-and-clicks feels old and outdated to me nowadays, and I'd rather play a more active third-person game like Dreamfall: Chapters or something more narrative-heavy like Telltale's Walking Dead.
But every now and again—say, once or twice a year—it seems like either Daedalic or Nordic comes along with a point-and-click that reminds me of the genre's glory days. In other words: The Germans apparently really love traditional point-and-click games.
Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is this year's damn fine point-and-click adventure.
King ART The Book of Unwritten Tales 2
The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a reminder that while Telltale may have usurped the adventure genre, great traditional point-and-clicks can still be made.
- Excellent puzzle design rarely becomes illogical
- Rich and well-crafted world feels larger than it really is
- There's a maze in Chapter 5. Ugh.
- Graphics and audio occasionally spotty