Publisher: Nordic Games
Developer: King Art Games
System requirements: Windows XP SP3/Vista SP2/Win 7 SP 1/Mac OS10.6, 2.0 GHz Pentium IV/2.4 GHz Athlon/1.4 GHz Intel Mac Core Duo CPU, 128 MB graphics card with Pixel Shader 2.0 support/64 MB Intel GMA-950 (Mac), 2 GB RAM (1.5 GB Mac), DirectX 9.0c, 6 GB hard-drive space
ESRB rating: Not rated
Release date: Available now
Jim Croce was right. You don’t tug on Superman’s cape or spit into the wind — and you certainly don’t make a point-and-click adventure that takes longer than three average shooters to finish. And yet, that’s what developer King Art has done with The Book of Unwritten Tales, a sprawling, artistically gorgeous PnC that just doesn’t want to end.
Aged gremlin archaeologist Mortimer McGuffin is in deep trouble. He’s discovered an ancient artifact that could bring an end to a devastating war that’s been going on for years. The evil queen, in whose best interest it is for the war to continue, has sent her most ruthless agents to find McGuffin and the artifact. Just before he’s taken prisoner, the resourceful scientist gives a special ring to a young gnome named Wilbur and tells him to take the ring to the local archmage, who will know how to use it to find the artifact. Thus begins Wilbur’s Tolkienesque quest to bring peace to the world.
Actually, Wilbur shares the journey with several other characters, including a wood elf named Ivo, and Nate, a cowardly human ship’s captain, all of whom have their own separate stories and adventures for you to experience. This is accomplished through the classic point-and-click interface. Click anywhere on the screen to move to (or as close as possible to) where you want to go. Items that you pick up along the way appear in your inventory, which pops up at the bottom of the screen when you move the mouse pointer there. Inventory items can be combined simply by clicking and dragging them onto each other, and they can be used by dragging them to the character or NPC who needs them. Collecting items also helps in the solving of the game’s many puzzles, which must be overcome to progress in the story.
Tales‘ strength lies in it’s writing and art direction. The story is boiler plate PC adventure, but it never takes itself seriously. References to movies and other games abound, and it even takes a few lighthearted shots at the gaming industry in general. Wilbur and McGuffin might as well be Frodo and Gandalf, while Ivo and Nate seem to be channeling less intense versions of Leia and Han Solo. There’s even a scene in which two fantasy characters are playing an MMO based on investment banking, with a trained monkey calling the shots from behind a wall, and the players constantly complaining about how unreliable their server is. Tales is also, hands down, the best-looking adventure game I’ve ever played. It’s amazingly colorful, with a level of detail that some non-adventure games haven’t managed to achieve. And composer Benny Oschmann’s score is a fine partner to the game’s visual excellence. Puzzles are fairly easy for the most part; just make sure to pick up everything you find and you’ll have very little trouble. Aside from one or two head-scratchers, the puzzle solutions are all fair and logical; very seldom did I find myself so lost that I tried combining everything with everything else, and the game includes a helpful feature that changes the color of the mouse pointer when you find a correct combination of items.
But as strong as Tales‘ writing is, it also becomes its undoing. There’s far too much extraneous dialogue between characters, which will disturb those who don’t cut directly to the chase during conversations. A too-large portion of the script has nothing to do with the story, which extends the playtime of the game to epic lengths. And most egregiously, the story forces you to play the last major section of the game twice, once from the perspective of each of two characters. All of this adds up to a final playtime of more than 20 hours — you could play an entire season of most of Telltale’s episodic series in less time. And then there are some annoying glitches: the characters don’t always move immediately after you click the screen, many hotspot magnifying glasses show up in incorrect places, characters always return to a prescribed position in a scene when you switch control from one character to another, and there’s a map puzzle near the end of the game that seems to be broken, with clues that don’t lead to its eventual solution.
The Book of Unwritten Tales is living proof of the old adage that less is more. It’s a fine artistic achievement with loads of creativity and surprises (a Guitar Hero-style puzzle; a dungeon crawl; etc.) and a script with lots of in-jokes for fans of popular culture to spot. But it’s also stuffed with unnecessary dialogue, situations and repetition that stretch the game out so long that you might almost forget the plot. It’s rare that gamers complain about a game being too long, but this one wears out its welcome about halfway through. Some judicious story editing would’ve made this a top-notch PnC. Hopefully any sequels that might appear will take that to heart.