The Book of Unwritten Tales Preview
The Book of Unwritten Tales was actually first released in 2009. King Art Games released the game in their native Germany and selected parts of Europe, to rave reviews. After winning many gaming awards, the game went on to become the best-selling adventure game of 2009 – despite its limited release. The game has since been in limbo with several false starts and worldwide publisher insolvency issues impeding an English language version.
Finally King Art Games have gained back the distribution rights to their own title and have decided to release the game themselves (with the help of Lace Mamba Global) and are nearing an actual release date. We have been given some hands on time with the first two chapters of the title and we can now reveal whether the painfully long wait has really been worth it or not.
Set in a war-torn Fantasy world, the game centres around the discovery of an ancient book that holds a secret that could tip the balance of the war in one way or the other. Gremlin Archaeologist Mortimer MacGuffin is trying to report his exciting discovery to the Arch-Mage of the Alliance forces when he is suddenly kidnapped by the force of the evil Arch-Witch Mortroga and her toad-like son. Mortroga wants the secrets of the book for herself, but MacGuffin won’t talk. Fortunately Princess Ivo, a Forest Elf sees the chaos as the Archaeologist’s home is ransacked and follows the group. With her help, MacGuffin escapes for a short time, just long enough to bestow a powerful ring upon an unsuspecting Gnome. Is this story beginning to sound familiar?
The game may make reference to and structure jokes around many well known Fantasy Film, Book and Videogame conventions and events, but the game isn’t a simple parody or spoof. The Book of Unwritten Tales is clearly inspired by and fond of the materials that it makes reference to and which it plays upon, but it doesn’t poke fun – this is a humorous homage. We can see the clear comparisons to The Lord of The Rings instantly, and soon come across Indiana Jones and Harry Potter references, among many other pop culture icons. Videogames don’t escape the attention of the game’s developers either, with one extended puzzle being based around two townsfolk who have fallen onto hard times and become addicted to a massively multiplayer online role-playing game – albeit one that runs on a clunky mechanical machine, and in which players become lawyers and investment bankers.
Aside from the comedic references, the game also fashions its own world and backstory, all of which are intriguing, despite their obvious influences. In the two chapters played in the demo, we visit the snow-capped mountains where the Dwarves dwell, the seafront town of the Humans and an idyllic forest. These locations are all staples of the Fantasy story world, yet they are each fashioned and fleshed out in a interesting and original way. The humour shines through in all locations also, and there are amusing items to be found in the background of scenes and ingenious devices dotted through the environments. This isn’t your average fantasy world, it is one that melds the earthen traditions of Fantasy stories with the mechanical whimsy of the Victorian era.
Players will take on the dangerous journey to rescue MacGuffin and to unwittingly assist the forces of good in the war whilst playing as four heroes. First is the aforementioned Gnome, Wilbur Weathervane. The odd one out in the family, Wilbur is a gnome who eschews the engineering life of most of his kind, instead wishing for adventure. When adventure literally drops in his lap, he takes it upon himself to make sure the powerful Ring is delivered safely to the arch-Mage, as he feels it is very important. Princess Ivo, an Elf of Royalty also found herself wrapped up in the adventure accidentally. Fianlly we have Nate and Critter – buccaneer and his mysterious pet who join the duo above as they go along. All four bring their own characteristics to the game, with Wilbur’s cautious Welsh lilt grounding the story with the common man, Ivo and her inquisitive yet intelligent nature and Nate who is the dashing adventurer, with the slightly off-the-wall sidekick Critter.
As you progress in the game, you will get the opportunity to switch between the characters at will – as and when different skills are needed to complete specific puzzles. Although we only got to play as Ivo and Wilbur in the preview build, you get a brief glimpse of how this mechanic may work, and it adds a level of variety to proceedings. Having to judge whose skills are necessary for each situation and when to use them is a welcome challenge, on top of the already challenging puzzle sets encountered. There are traditional inventory based puzzles, as well as conversational ones and brain teasers. Although some puzzles do resort to a little back-tracking, there is a good amount of variety in the challenges that are thrown in front of you, and these are likely to keep you busy for some time. When you keep in mind that only the first two chapters of a five chapter game were on display for preview, you get the feeling that the full game is quite mammoth in its length.
Whilst the puzzles are taxing, they don’t stray into the realms of stupidity and remain logical – a problem many adventure games stumble on, especially comedy ones. There is no in-game hint system, which is perhaps unlike a lot of recent point and click games which tend to hold the hand of gamers. This title is certainly a more traditional adventure game in this regard and it is a welcome change, as far too many adventure titles err on the side of simplicity. A bit of a challenge is certainly a good thing.
On top of that, the graphics in the game are very nice, with hand-drawn backgrounds and fully rendered character models that sit perfectly well together. The art style suits the genre very well and the level of detail in the environments is astounding – as mentioned earlier the little details add to the humour, so it is a very strong asset to the game. Animation of the characters is also smooth and fluid, especially when options are turned to high, but even at low graphical settings the game looks good.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect is that the localisation has been carried out brilliantly. Germany is a huge market for adventure games and as such, many big releases in the genre have originated in the language and been translated later. Some of these have been handled quite terribly and can be really off-putting at times. However, it must be said that The Book of Unwritten Tales has been translated very well. The English used in the game is complex and clever and the jokes do not suffer from the translation. The wit and humour remains strong even when not in the mother tongue, and this is a testament to a good translation. Also, the voice work in the game is astoundingly good for an independently made game, that has been localised. The range of authentic character accents is brilliant, and you will notice American, British, Welsh and Scottish tones (amongst others) all spoken in a convincing manner. The comic timing from the voice actors is also spot on, and the game benefits greatly from this as the humour could easily fall down on a point like that.
With these points combined, the game does make for an exciting prospect to look forward to. With its release date rapidly approaching, the title is already looking nicely polished and retail-worthy. Whereas I came into the preview with trepidations about a corny story with irritating characters, all wrapped up in a bad localisation effort, I am leaving with high hopes for the full title. My fears have been allayed in the time spent with the title and the mild and likeable sense of humour really grows on you. It might not be laugh out loud funny, but it delivers regular chuckles and clever wordplay, which is unlikely to grate on the player. It will be exciting to meet the rest of the cast of this adventure and to see how the dynamic will work when all four heroes are in our control. I look forward to writing the rest of the story in the book of this fantasy title.
The Book of Unwritten Tales is due for release on PC in the UK on October 29th, 2011.