Riding the wave of the indie game revolution, long-retired genres are seeing a resurgence. Regardless of what the anonymous hipster gamer guru would have you believe, retro isn't just about being ironic. Veteran design is re-purposed and revived into gameplay that's at once innovative and familiar. Budget titles can exude off-kilter charm without looking like they were barely conceived in the bottom of a dingy basement. Within minutes of browsing Steam’s extensive library, nostalgic need can be fulfilled justly. On the crest of returning classics is the unassuming adventure game. TellTale’s licensed cinematic scapes spiked their popularity, but diverge enough from the point-and-click sphere to be classified as their own subgenre.
Fans of a more traditional puzzle-driven dynamic need look no further than KING Art Games’ cult series, The Book of Unwritten Tales. The developers packed the full-length parody with every fantasy trope in existence while staying completely self-aware. When the original title surfaced in 2009, a well-executed adventure game was a rarity. Even as the niche genre rose to somewhat commonplace status by 2012, The Critter Chronicles prequel earned acclaim. Thanks in part to a successful KickStarter campaign, the franchise is finally receiving a fully-fledged sequel with The Book of Unwritten Tales 2. The entire troupe returns for the reboot. Elven princess Ivo is once again joined by the magically-inclined gnome Wilbur Weathervane, cocky adventurer Nathaniel Bonnet and his gibberish-speaking pink Critter to uncover what’s gone awry in the town of Seastone.
"Veteran design is re-purposed and revived into gameplay that's at once innovative and familiar."
When I previewed Unwritten Tales 2 last November, two things stood out to me. At first glance, the game is striking. The graphics received a monumental upgrade from the already impressive original. I anticipated and appreciated new environments on a purely visual level, outside of reward for my awesome riddle-crushing efforts. With the discovery of each new landscape, I had to actively suppress the urge to change my wallpaper. The art direction now favors greater abstraction, resulting in a style in-line with the game’s comic tone. And though a few familiar locales return, they’re wonderfully rendered within the new aesthetic. After several consecutive hours in game, my second realization was that Unwritten Tales didn’t feel like an Early Access title. Perhaps my patch level was cosmically aligned, but the only hitches I faced in-game were the result of my own botched logic.
"I anticipated and appreciated new environments on a purely visual level, outside of reward for my awesome riddle-crushing efforts. With the discovery of each new landscape, I had to actively suppress the urge to change my wallpaper."
A few troublesome bugs unfortunately crept into the full release. I experienced audio oddities, with muddy and occasionally missing dialogue. Characters routed offscreen, becoming unclickable or locked in endless animation loops. Necessary items became inaccessible, forcing me to rollback to an older save. Still, these errors cropped up at a low frequency and are considerably minor in comparison to the glitchfest infecting AAA games. With the exception of an unfortunate incident with a rogue electrical belt, the errors didn’t impede my progress and appeared most often in optional side quests. The autosave feature proved to be a godsend here, saving me from repeating hours of play. The genre seldom includes branching missions to begin with, and Unwritten Tales 2 is already one of the most extensive games of its kind. KING Art has been industrious and responsive throughout Unwritten Tales’ development and beta, providing detailed progress blogs and comprehensive patch fixes. I trust that any remaining issues will be quickly resolved, and they certainly shouldn’t prevent one from picking up an otherwise fantastic title.
"KING Art has been industrious and responsive throughout Unwritten Tales’ development and beta, providing detailed progress blogs and comprehensive patch fixes."
Humor sold the first two Unwritten titles, and the sequel delivers the same level of referential comedy. Every stretch of pixels brims with allusions to other adventure games, RPGs, modern fantasy and nerdy pop culture at large. Inspiration stems from a variety of sources, but scenes featuring Wilbur Weathervane heavily reference the Harry Potter Universe, down to his direct placement at a school for witchcraft and wizardry. The eccentric Dumbledore and grating Dolores Umbridge masquerade as supporting characters. And the orchestral score in Wilbur’s scenes channels a rearranged but undeniable John Williams. It’s worth mentioning the superb English localization, free from translation-borne awkwardness. Solid vocal performance and the sheer quality of the writing seals in the satire and prevents the script from feeling heavy-handed, despite how numerous and overt the references actually are. And there’s enough content here to round off a complete edition of Trivial Pursuit.
Unwritten’s characters appeal despite exemplifying archetypes. Even with the disparity in design, the cast develops organically from the first installment. The writers struck an ideal makeup of supercharged stereotypes and sarcastic incongruity. Princess Ivo’s brazen commentary, especially in response to rude, purposely gendered insults from her fellow protagonists, made her instantly likable. Poor Wilbur nurses a clinical level of anxiety and general self-doubt. Wilbur and Ivo dominate screen time, and perhaps that contributed to my lowered affinity for Nate. Something about him bored me and pushed me to rush his singular arcs. Even with his backstory from the first Unwritten Tales, he simply isn’t given enough time to transcend the typical hero trappings.
"The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a worthy successor not only to its own franchise, but to genre-defining titles like Monkey Island and Broken Sword."
Good puzzles built on strong logic define the core of any adventure game. For the most part, Book of Unwritten Tales 2 gets it right. The combination of item combining and dismissing red herrings to form conclusions follows a wacky but consistent deductive process. There are a few slip-ups that felt engineered to provide maximum irritation, with certain quests requiring random guesswork to find the solution. Overall, the difficulty scales proportionately, integrating complexity and multiple-character missions in later chapters. The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a worthy successor not only to its own franchise, but to genre-defining titles like Monkey Island and Broken Sword. Clocking in at a full 15-25 hours of real gameplay, the budget price of $35 is a true bargain.
Review by: Ameenah Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC