We’ve covered a great deal of titles from Telltale Games here on BrainLazy. We do so not just because they make quality games, which they do, but because they have been illustrating what we have long known to be the case. Namely, that adventure games are just as valid and worthwhile today as they were in their heyday. Some would say that Telltale alone has been able to produce adventure games fit for a modern audience. Well, to those, I present to you KING Games and their masterpiece, The Book of Unwritten Tales. Already a big hit overseas, in its native land of Germany the game is being hailed as a worthy successor to the Lucas Arts games of old. Any fan of the genre will know that being mentioned in the same breath as the original Monkey Island games is high praise indeed. Well, after they were kind enough to send us a substantial preview version of the upcoming English translation, and I must say that I fully agree with the assessment.
Let us start with the graphics, shall we? This game is absolutely gorgeous. The characters and many interactive elements are fully 3D, while the stationary backdrops and environments are lovingly pre-rendered. The result is impressive to say the least. Every environment is dripping with careful detail, and because static elements are depicted with still images, the characters can be high detail and well animated while still permitting my meager PC to run at 100+ frames per second. Still more impressive is the amount of in-game attention these environmental details get. Obviously any adventure game is required by design to tuck useful items in out of the way places and request that you hunt them down, but here flavor items prompt full, well thought out, and consistent descriptions and explanations. That canister with a jellyfish isn’t a pet, it is a lamp. They used to be more common, but gnome inventions are beginning to replace them. Everything has a role and a history.
It is this depth that makes all of the difference for me. Obviously one could hardly consider this game to be in the same league as Monkey Island if it didn’t contain a heaping helping of humor, and its fair share of pop culture references as well. Too many games, though, think that shoveling gags and knowing nods into the dialog and setting is all it takes to make your game clever. KING Games managed to weave the jokes and references into the fabric of the game. One character is an archeologist, and as such anything in reference to him is garnished with Indiana Jones references. It could be as small as a familiar hat sitting on the head of a scarecrow or as obvious as a character humming a few notes of the Raiders March, but it never took me away from the game, even when it was playing with the fourth wall. One of my favorite moments was the discussion regarding how exactly a creature as ill-suited for flight as a dragon could possibly be useful for transportation. I also enjoyed the thorough investigation I did on a particular chair, much to the irritation of the character in question.
Speaking of the characters, this game stands out among others in the genre by giving you more than just one or two to work with. The game is broken up into chapters, and even in the pair of chapters provided in this preview, we get plenty of face time with a pair of very distinctive and entertaining individuals. There is the adventurous and irreverent elf, Princess Ivo, who involves herself in the adventure by witnessing the abduction of the keeper of the game’s McGuffin, a gremlin named… McGuffin. As things get further out of hand, a young gnome named Wilbur Weathervane gets pulled into the mix, and later a bizarre critter named… Critter (I’m beginning to notice a trend here) and a buccaneer named Nate will become embroiled in the mix as well. They all have their own personalities and motivations, from greed to duty to simply having nothing better to do, and each must enlist aid from an equally colorful supporting cast.
I’ve often found that international releases and translations have a strong tendency to skimp on the voice work, but there is no sign of that here. Every line is spoken, and each character is performed with skill and enthusiasm. The same goes for the soundtrack, which is orchestral and complements the setting well, whether it is an original piece played behind a panoramic view of an icy mountain, or the unmistakable “Hall of the Mountain King” played while you investigate the gadget-laden gnome hole.
The excellent presentation is joined by gameplay that is 100% classic adventure gaming. You’ll sweep across each new screen with your mouse, clicking to investigate, collect, combine, or activate the various hotspots you find. Puzzles are tricky, but seldom frustrating, and care has even been taken to acknowledge those times when there seems to be an obvious solution to a problem, but it is not the one the developers intended. Observations are carefully worded to suggest future uses for various items, and those elements of the environment that exist only to add flavor cease to be active hotspots once you’ve heard all that there is to hear, thus eventually narrowing down the avialable points of interaction to only those that really matter.
What we’ve seen of The Book of Unwritten Tales makes it clear that it is deserving of every bit of praise it received for its initial release, and all due care has been taken to ensure that the international release is of the same high quality. Definitely check this game out when it releases this fall. You won’t be sorry.
For more details, check out the official game site.