Quick, I shall gather the other panserbjørne so we can take the Alethiometer to Mount Doom so we can destroy the Death Star and save Narnia. Enough references yet?
Hot on the heels of my Top 5 Adventure Games here we have The Book of Unwritten Tales, a game by German developer King Art. It is set in a fantasy world with a very typical armies of good versus the armies of evil story going on. But The Book of Unwritten Tales very clearly knows about the fantasy genre, the game is full of tongue-in-cheek moments and references to other works of fantasy and science fiction.
The game starts with the capture of the gremlin McGuffin who has just discovered the location of an artefact that could end the war. To his rescue comes Ivo, a wood elf princess who really needs more suitable clothing for adventuring. McGuffin also visits Wilbur Weathervane, a naive young gnome who dreams of being a mage and an adventurer, and charges him with possession of a magic ring (sounding familiar) which he must deliver to the arch-mage.
It’s a point-and-click adventure game, what more is there to say about the mechanics? It has the nice feature of hotspot highlighting which can be a controversial thing but is always handy. The interface is well realised with hotspots disappearing once they are determined to be of no use. You might think that makes this a very easy game but the puzzles are just challenging enough to still keep it interesting. You can also play as multiple characters at various points of the game, adding an extra dimension to puzzles when you need to think about who can do what (think Gobliiins).
The characters are pretty fantastic with some excellent voice acting. Wilbur is almost certainly the best but the others can definitely hold their own. Having characters that are a lot of fun to play is a god-send in adventure games. It just makes the whole thing much more enjoyable. The plot isn’t deeply involved but has enough twists and turns to keep you interested. It’s a very standard good vs evil story with unlikely heroes that you’ll find anywhere. It’s really the game’s humour that is it’s draw. Beyond simple references to other works the game includes self-aware jokes about how no one dies in adventure games, characters playing role playing games in a ‘fantasy’ world full of tax forms and insurance salesmen, and where the undead are forming an anti-defamation league in order to integrate into society.
Problems with the game? There aren’t that many but there are a few that are a little nagging. Mostly it’s a problem with some of the puzzles. The game frequently builds up some complicated object hunt puzzles that end very quickly when a character simply gives you what you were after. For someone who plays a lot of adventure games this is a little jarring. At first it seems like a joke about some of the ridiculously complicated puzzles in adventure games but very quickly starts feeling a like a cop-out. Especially when the characters start talking about how they always have to go through a series of unlikely tasks in order to get an item off someone (are self-aware characters in adventure games a thing now?). It’s hard not to feel that the character’s complaints are unjustified when they’ve just been given so many things.
This does actually become a bit of a plot point in the late game that is quite fun but for the most part it feels like there were ideas that just got cut. You could argue that it cuts out padding from a game (and this is one that I would say is about medium length) but it would have been nice to have something there. The other problem with this game is the ending. Usually in adventure games you end on one last puzzle that you complete before actually finishing everything. The last puzzle in this game amounts to walking up some stairs. Then it just sort of ends, quite abruptly. It’s a bit unsatisfying and makes all the effort you put in feel like it isn’t worthwhile.
If you’re a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series then you’re probably going to get a lot out of this game as it has a very similar sort of humour. The fourth-wall breaking is quite fun, particularly to adventure game veterans, and the characters are absolutely brilliant. Most of the puzzles aren’t that tricky but there are enough challenges to keep it entertaining. If you like your high-fantasy to have deep plot then you might find it a bit dissatisfying but you could do a whole lot worse. Had I finished this game last week it may well have gone on my Top 5 Adventure games, so just consider this an honourary number 6.