While Telltale has helped to bring the once faded point-and-click adventure genre back into prominence, their recent titles have definitely leaned more towards a cinematic presentation, resulting in less environmental interaction and puzzle-solving. Old-school adventure game fans haven’t been out of luck, though, as several other developers have kept the old traditions alive through more conventional games.
One of the better ones I encountered was The Book of Unwritten Tales, a fantasy-oriented experience with a fun cast of characters and some nods to contemporary titles and conventions. While the game did get a follow up with prequel The Critter Chronicles, developer KING Art Games held off on a full-fledged sequel until their announcement and subsequent Kickstarter campaign for The Book of Unwritten Tales 2.
The sequel retains the elements that made the first title a success, and while the actual gameplay mechanics haven’t been dramatically revamped (admittedly, a less essential task for story and puzzle-heavy adventure games of this type), the overall presentation has been improved in several ways. While this is probably not a game that detractors of the original will be swayed by, existing fans of the series will definitely find a lot to like.
The main playable cast remains the same, consisting of the spirited gnome Wilbur Weathervane, the adventure-seeking elf princess Ivo, the roving adventurer Nate, and the Muppet-like, gibberish-speaking Critter. The four start out separated and facing individual problems, such as Ivo being kept at home by her overbearing mother, Wilbur struggling as a teacher of magic, and Critter having to cure Nate of a nasty hangover. As you progress through the story, though, you’ll eventually be able to manually switch between certain characters, which leads to some clever puzzles that take full advantage of the mechanic.
This being a classically styled adventure game, you’ll be using your mouse as the primary method of exploration and interaction, along with a standard inventory to collect and use items in environmental puzzles. One small, but appreciated touch from the original returns, which is the ability to press the space bar and have every element that you can interact with temporarily highlighted – a godsend for a genre infamously known for “pixel hunting.”
Admittedly, I found the new inventory menu a little more cumbersome to use than the first game’s. Before, all you had to do was move the cursor to the bottom of the screen for your list of items to pop up. Now, a knapsack icon in the bottom right corner of the screen has to be manually clicked to open the inventory. It’s an admittedly small quibble, but the new system never felt as smooth to me as the original did.
While the core plot is unlikely to win any writing awards, it’s still perfectly serviceable and has some interesting turns, and is delivered in a charming way, with dialog both written and voiced well. All four of the leads are likeable and distinct, and the colorful cast of supporting characters provides some very enjoyable moments.
The original’s occasionally referential sense of humor also returns here. You can expect to see nods to things like Minecraft and the iPad, and one part of the game presents a great tribute to older adventure games both aesthetically and mechanically. The rest of the references aren’t as clever, but they also aren’t frequent enough to feel overbearing, either.
A traditional adventure game lives or dies on the quality of its puzzles, and while there are certainly several that will take some effort to decipher, more often than not, they still make sense. Newcomers to the genre who have only played the like of The Walking Dead might find it a little too much to take in, but veterans should get through the journey without any trouble.
As far as new gameplay elements go, the only addition worth bringing up is the ability to partake in optional side-quests, which are definitely a rarity in games like this. Solving puzzles that aren’t required to progress results in both Steam achievements and alternate costumes for each character. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a fun little addition that helps extend the game’s longevity.
Where The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 definitely outclasses its predecessors is in its overall presentation. Before, the graphics consisted of mostly static and pre-rendered environments with real-time polygonal characters and objects. Now, the environments appear to be rendered in real time, resulting in more dynamic camera movements and shots to go along with the solid art direction. The revamped character models are also more appealing and expressive. Finally, while the first game already contained a good musical score, the sequel has many tracks that are fully orchestrated, giving them an even grander sense of scope.
While there are many notable positives and improvements to this follow-up, I still had some problems. To start, you seem to spend far too long in each set of environments, often leading to a slight sense of stagnation. Also, I encountered a game-breaking glitch early on that left me unable to click anything, making it impossible for me to progress. The only way I was able to get around it was by looking on the Steam forums for the game and seeing that the developer put up a downloadable save file to get around the issue. Hopefully this won’t be a widespread issue, because I can see it being a big problem for players who don’t know where to look for a fix.
Despite those issues, I still think The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a winner. Its tried and true mechanics won’t convert any players who are turned off by adventure games, but it presents the same appealing cast, world, and wit that made the original so enjoyable, all while looking and sounding noticeably better as well. Fans of the original and adventure gurus should definitely give this one a look.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.
The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 boasts the same clever puzzle design and appealing world of its predecessor, and does a fine job of upgrading its presentation as well.