The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles – First look!

I don’t like adventure games. Let’s get that right out in the open first thing. I wish I liked them. I want to like them. I ought to like them. I like narrative driven games, and adventure games (most of them anyway) are strongly narrative driven. My problem with adventure games is that basically I suck at them. My mind is just not good at solving what I call “passive puzzles.” In order to work a problem I need to be able to fiddle with it. To try different things in different ways. Fiddling with parts of a puzzle keeps my mind working. When I get to a point where it’s just time to stop and stare at the puzzle pieces in order to come up with a solution, my brain just locks up and starts thinking about pizza or something.

And now along comes a traditional point and click adventure game, The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles, which is a prequel to the well-regarded The Book of Unwritten Tales. I fired this one up last night, feeling a bit resentful about the whole process because I knew I was in for a lot of frustration. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this: I was up until almost 1 am playing and even then it was an effort to tear myself away because I was enjoying myself so much.

I wish I could tell you what the game is about, but so far I’m still in the opening scene. I’m Nate Bonnett, a roguish fellow who fancies himself a sky pirate, and I’ve won a ship by cheating in a game of cards. Now the ship’s owner has sent a bounty hunter (a female orc with an inexplicable accent that I pegged as Scottish but Angela says is Mancunian – what do I know, ugly American that I am, and I apologize in advance to my British readers) to bring both ship and myself back. My task is to evade this bounty hunter. Thus far this task has eluded me but I’m making slow progress.

Eventually, I presume, I will encounter the titular critter.

So what makes this adventure different? Well part of it just may be me changing. In truth I haven’t actually tried an adventure game in years. But in terms of game mechanics, the game’s developer (KING Art, with Nordic Games as publisher) has kept the number of possible actions low enough that when I get stuck I can sort-of brute force my way through a solution. I have a finite number of ‘hot spots’ to interact with (shown by holding down the space bar) and a manageable number of inventory items to attempt to use on these hot spots. When logic fails, just trying every combination (in other words, ‘fiddling with the problem’) can jar something loose. That’s still not to say the game has been easy for me and in one spot I did get stuck and had to head to the Internet for a solution. In that case it turned out I’d just missed a combination.

The game is intended to be funny and Angela (who was sitting next to me playing EQ2) and I were both laughing from time to time. Humor is really subjective, and while many of the jokes worked, some of them just died on the computer screen. They jokes are kind of all over the place and include lots of pop culture staples (references to how fast the ship can do the Kessel Run, for example) and some self-referential 1-offs (Bonnett suggesting dressing up as a game developer and re-writing the first chapter as the solution to a puzzle). The voice talent so far is good but not great; it’s certainly doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the game.

One detail I really want to make note of. In the first chapter there’s a lock-picking puzzle and I have to say that it is by far the best lock-picking puzzle/mini-game I’ve ever encountered. It really feels like picking a lock, at least insofar as my experience as an honest and upstanding citizen (ha!) has taught me about lock picking.

If you played and enjoyed the first game I’m sure you’d enjoy this one as well. If like me you didn’t, then this one could be a good place to start. It’s a shorter game (roughly half the length of the original) but cheaper as well, listing at about $20, but available for $16 until December 12th. There’s a demo available as well.

I hasten to add that you shouldn’t consider this a full review (I get some confusion about what is and isn’t a review sometimes). I’ve only spent one evening playing and I haven’t gotten very far. I’m just sharing the fact that (so far at least) I’m enjoying an adventure game for the first time in years (maybe ever?). For all I know the difficulty ramps way up in Chapter 2 and I’m going to need a ton of help, but that’s where you come in. I’m selfishly hoping some of my adventure-playing readers will pick the game up so they can give me some hints!

[Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy of THe Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles.]