In a sad but true twist of fate, Point-and-Click Adventure games haven’t exactly been doing well lately. Far behind us are the glory days of games like The Secret of Monkey Island and Simon the Sorcerer, each full of laugh-out-loud comedy and taxing yet logical puzzles. It might be that modern audiences just don’t want to spend the time on a genre so linear and solo-focused, or perhaps it’s to do with the slow, considered nature of the aforementioned titles. The one certainty is that the majority of modern point-and-clicks have been commercially and some critically panned, none more-so than those based on bought-out franchises from the glory years. I remember playing Simon the Sorcerer 4 a few years ago after the franchise was re-styled by Silver Style, a German company, and saw every flaw possible, including mistranslation in both comedy and language and generally horrible American voice acting. Tinted with rage about the lack of thought and destruction of a beloved franchise, I vowed never to play another foreign-language Adventure game again.
It is with some trepidation then that I approach King Art’s The Book of Unwritten Tales: Critter Chronicles. Having not played, or even heard of the critically successful 2009 original (released in the UK in 2011), my only thoughts were that this prequel would be a badly translated mess. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
You start off by meeting the protagonist, Nate, on his newly acquired airship. Immediately I see a pre rendered background. It’s beautiful, but I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed by it when I also notice that the Character Models are in 3D. It might just be me, but in an adventure game I expect some kind of immersion, and having the two contrasting graphical styles partially takes that away. After the initial scene on the Airship however the style becomes more consistent and the stylised images really come into their own, especially in the Critter ship. However, the animation, especially of the Critters, is flawless. The sound design is similarly excellent, with the voice acting fitting the characters perfectly and the background sound enhances the feel of the world.
Arguably the most important aspects of an adventure game are the Puzzles and the Story/Writing. You need to have a real sense of adventure of progression whilst also keeping the game-play fresh to prevent it being just a visual book.
Thankfully the writing itself in Critter Chronicles is excellent. As the witty, yet arrogant Nate and his soon-to-be companion, Critter, you face a series of obstacles including a Yeti and an angry Orc as you travel through the Northlands. The difference in the two characters is immediately noticeable when you first switch between them. Whilst Nate’s experiences are very much hinted through his words and the language of the people he meets, Critter’s communication relies almost completely on his gestures, providing some true laugh-out-loud moments. Seeing a little pink alien gesturing the phrase “Look, it’s a three-headed Monkey” made me, and my Father (who I played the Monkey Island games with as a child) absolutely fold.
The humour is generally very universal. Whilst other adventure games have relied heavily on language for this, Critter Chronicles uses a mixture of social and slapstick humour, which works surprisingly well. Bothering a shifty-looking penguin has never been so fun. Throughout there are many subtle and sometimes obvious references to both popular and gaming culture and self-references, showing an obvious pedigree in the genre, though sometimes the changeable maturity of the title can be too overwhelming.
The downside to the charming nature of the plot is the Game-play and puzzling itself. Falling on the modern two-button trap, you often find yourself clicking everything rather than thinking about what you should do. When you actually figure out what needs to be done the answer is often either completely illogical or the most convoluted way of doing something. There’s no mouse-overable clutter to keep you guessing as every named object is used at some point and consequently once you’ve found the inventory (hover at the bottom of the screen) the game becomes incredibly easy; if you get hovertext, you’re probably right.
And that’s the fundamental problem; although they’ve been able to successfully mimic the comedic and stylistic success of the genre, KING Art have neglected the depth and fluidity of these influences and given us a beautiful but detached world, in which the obvious answers to puzzles are un-attemptable and the random choices are the only choices. However, by pressing space you can find things you have missed, and there are multiple difficulty settings.
Despite this criticism, I love it. Pure and simple. Hell, it’s got me wanting to play the original!
This is the kind of series we need. It’s everything adventure-gamers have been begging for, and more. If you love old-school point and clicks, it’s easy for me to recommend it despite the flaws, with a lot of heart and genuine charm. If you want a good feel-good adventure, pick this up.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.