The Book of Unwritten Tales is a celebration of the classic point and click adventure games. With spirited dialog, dazzling imagery and logical puzzles that would give Guybrush Threepwood a run for his doubloons, the game is an entertaining little gem that hits all the marks the genre is known for.
The story is wrapped around a warm, fuzzy blanket of parody. In a mystical land, a goblin archaeologist named MacGuffin has located a powerful artifact that could turn the tide of the war besieging his land, but before he can study the object he is taken from his home by the enemy. Ivo, a young elf, wanders nearby just as the goblin is placed in a cage atop a giant dragon. Hitching a ride, Ivo saves MacGuffin by releasing the cage in midair, sending it crashing down to the snow banks just outside a Dwarven fortress. The woozy goblin makes contact with a gnome named Wilbur who is given the quest of delivering the artifact to a human arch-mage.
If you’ve played at least one point and click adventure game within the last twenty years, then you will ease into The Book of Unwritten Tales quickly and comfortably. If by chance you’ve paid little to no attention to the genre, the goal of the game is to complete a series of puzzles in order to get from one story beat to the next. This involves talking to a large cast of quirky characters and completing puzzles by searching out items that to be used individually or in conjunction with others. The game will often switch the point of view from one character to another, each with their own particular predicaments that must be bested before moving on.
Solutions to numerous puzzles never really present themselves and it is up to the player to deduce the answers, many of them requiring varying leaps in logic. For instance, at one point Wilbur needs to acquire a parachute. Rather than search one out, he has to make one by combining three everyday objects. These objects are not discernable from the rest of the environment, so it pays to investigate every inch of the area. There’s also no hint system in place, making it relatively easy to get stuck or feel unsure as to where to go or what to do next.
Unwritten Tales draws inspiration from the character archetypes found in World of Warcraft. The design of the dwarves, gnomes, elves and humans take on the same caricatures found in Blizzard’s MMO. Dwarves live in massive homesteads cut from stone, Ivo resembles a scantily clad Night Elf (sans purple skin) and Wilbur is part of the ingenious and technologically advanced race of Gnomes who have mastered the art of machinery to create all sorts of advance gadgets and equipment. Each of the game’s pre-rendered environments are beautifully done and offer a rich level of detail that one would come to expect in modern adventure games.
The game’s visuals are so well done that it gets difficult to pick out useable items because they blend in so well. As a result, Unwritten Tales feels less like an adventure game at times and more like a photo hunt. Getting stuck on certain puzzles due to a missing item is a bit maddening because you don’t know that another item is needed or where it can be found. There were a few instances where I blindly moved my cursor around the screen, hoping that it would highlight something I’ve missed.
The hook for Unwritten Tales is its comedy and self awareness. The game often parodies popular culture, such as Dungeons & Dragons and, most notably, J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings.” Point: The artifact that Wilbur is tasked with delivering is a solid gold ring and given the gnome’s diminutive stature, the comparison is obvious. The game also enjoys being absurd: In order to gain a diploma from a mage school, Wilbur has to pull its teachers away from a bizarre MMO based on the Internal Revenue Service and the game’s server manager is a chimpanzee. It is this sort of zany, absurd humor that makes the experience of Unwritten Tales a real treat.
As good as the dialog and comedy are, there were times when I got caught in the tedium inherent with the genre. Certain tasks require you to constantly move back and forth from one location and another. Later in the game, you gain the ability to fast travel which makes getting to and from areas rather speedy but this ability doesn’t extend to moving from one point on the screen to another. When given direction, characters will move to their mark very slowly. Double clicking on areas where I wanted them to go was futile, as they only have one walking speed.
The Book of Unwritten Tales doesn’t do anything wildly different from other graphic adventures but it does one, important thing very well: it tells a fun story. Delightful characters, hilarious self awareness and good puzzles make this an adventure both novices and veterans will want to take.
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.