Confirmed! Me and adventure games don’t mix

I finished Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles tonight. It is a well-made adventure game full of jokes and fiendish puzzles and a nice enough story. In short, insofar as I can tell with my limited experience in the genre, it’s a solid adventure game.

And I am SO glad to be done with it.

I started out doing OK. I really enjoyed Chapter 1. Chapter 2 got me a little frustrated but after some time away a few potential solutions occurred to me and I started making progress again. In Chapter 3 I was having fun again and by now enough other people were playing that when I got stuck I could Google my way to a hint. By Chapter 4 I felt like I was doing more Googling than playing, and about half-way through Chapter 4 I ground to a halt. Tonight I found a complete walkthrough and used it to finish the game just so I could feel OK about moving on to something else.

I really want to stress that this wasn’t the game’s fault. Plenty of people are really enjoying Critter Chronicles and if you enjoy adventures you probably will too.

But I just don’t have the stamina for solving one puzzle after another like this. I could feel the frustration slowly building in me. I mentioned that the nice thing about pure point and click adventures is that as a worst case, you can kind of ‘brute force’ your way through a sticky spot by just trying to use everything on everything else.

The more I played Critter Chronicles the more impatient I got with myself and the more I went straight to brute-forcing my way through, and the more I did that the more aggravated I got with little things like the amount of time it takes to switch characters or for the cursor to go from ‘doing something’ to ‘ready for input.’

And by the time I got to that point, I wasn’t even noticing the puzzles I solved so I wasn’t getting that “Aha!” satisfaction from them. I just expected myself to get those and was frustrated with myself for not getting the others. I was in a bad place by the time I found that walk-through, actually angry at the game! (Silly, I know.)

Critter Chronicles isn’t a long game. Steam says I spent 9 hours on it. But I think for me to enjoy adventure games they have to be even shorter than that. I could probably enjoy an episodic game that came out in several parts, each part being 2-3 hours long, and with a few weeks between each part to let my ‘puzzle frustration toxins’ dissipate.

I -could- have just played 1 chapter at a time of Critter Chronicles and then waited a few weeks to go on to the next chapter, but I would’ve been setting myself up for failure that way, too, because the game has a lot of back-references and even in the 6 day time period I spent playing I’d totally forgotten about at least one character who was needed to solve a late game problem. Imagine if I’d tried to go back to the game weeks later?

Anyway, bottom line is, as much as I want to love adventure games, this foray back into the genre has proven to me that I just don’t have the brain/personality/patience to really enjoy them. Better to face this then to be miserable playing a game, right? I still have tons of other genres to love!

One more time though, I want to say if you DO like adventure games, then Critter Chronicles is probably something you’d enjoy! Don’t like my anti-adventure attitude sour you on this title!

The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles – Hello Chap. 4!

Yesterday’s frustration with Chapter 2 is now a thing of the past. I’m happy to report that with Chapter 3 I was back to moving along at a decent pace while chuckling at the jokes and enjoying myself. I finished that Chapter tonight and now I’m in Chapter 4 and there’s some crazy stuff going on!

Not a lot more to add tonight but it does feel like Chapter 2 was the game’s weak point, at least so far. Critter’s lack of language really makes humor tough when he’s on his own. Of course part of the problem was that I missed an interaction and ended up beating my head against the wall for a bit longer than I should have. But tonight it was back to both myself and Angela getting a laugh out of the spoken dialog.

If anyone happens to play and needs any hints, feel free to ask. In fact tonight’s screen shot is something of a hint…

Hocus Pocus!

The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles – And I’m stuck

OK this is more like it! This is what I remember playing adventure games feels like…

So I made it to Chapter 2 of The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles. Chapter two switches focus to the Critter who doesn’t speak English (though some of his friends do). While I do have what’s essentially a ‘quest’ so I know what to do, I’m finding playing as the Critter a lot less entertaining than playing as Nate Bonnett. His constant gibberish gets on my nerves a bit, honestly. That might be the frustration talking, though. He’s animated well and is oddly cute in a Muppet kind of way. Mostly it’s the voice that bugs me.

I know what I need to do, and I even know basically how to do it, but I’m missing one link in the chain. The first thing Critter has to do is pick up an object that is protected by another character. The steps for doing this are long and random and this is when I started to lose interest. I did get past that though, mostly by just futzing with things until something totally unexpected happened, allowing me to get said object. I know my next goal, and I know the parts that I need to use to get it done — there’s some logic to this puzzle — but there’s just this one step I’m stumped on. I feel like I’ve gone everywhere I can go, tried using everything on everything else, “talked” to everyone until they’re repeating themselves… I’m just stuck.

I’ve started solving, I assume, the next puzzle since I’ve jammed random things together and done things that I can’t undo. I’m hoping the game doesn’t support ‘dead ends’ that require a re-load because I haven’t been saving except at the end of a session.

I think I need to put the game away and come back to it in a few days. Sad though, since I so enjoyed my first evening of playing and aside from 1 hint I looked up, I solved Chapter 1 quickly enough that it never felt like the game was dragging. But now I just feel like I’m running around in circles and I really want to get back to Bonnett and his dilemma.

This shouldn’t be seen as a knock on the game, which still seems to be a solid adventure. I just felt like I needed to share this in case other adventure-wary gamers read my first post and thought maybe this game would be a great ‘starter’ adventure, but so far Chapter 2 isn’t as easy (for me at least) as Chapter 1 was.

[Update: Right after finishing this post, I fired the game up again and found the one object I hadn’t tried using on the one hotspot, and got moving forward again. So that’s typical, right? As soon as you complain about a problem, it goes away. Like taking your car to the shop because it’s constantly stalling but when you get it there it runs perfectly!]

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.]