Review: The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 (PC)

Originally published over on n3rdabl3 – based on the Beta version which was provided by Nordic Games.

Overall Rating: 4 stars – Geeky references abound in this glorious point and click adventure game

Now I haven’t played the first Unwritten Tales game (nor its prequel, The Critter Chronicles), and I will say at the outset, you don’t need to in order to enjoy the sequel; however, knowing the background does help to make you more engaged with the characters.  The opening introduction does give a narration of the first game, but here’s a quick summary of the characters and events of the original Book of Unwritten Tales.

In The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 the world of Aventasia is in a state of war between the Alliance and the Army of Shadows.  An old archaeologist unearths the Artefact of Divine Fate, which allows its user ultimate power.  He records his findings in a book, which he is able to hide before being captured by the Army of Shadows.  It’s up to three mismatched heroes to take on the quest to find the book and save the day.

The protagonists are Nate Bonnet (a somewhat arrogant and narcissistic human adventurer, who travels with a strange pink creature known as Critter), Ivo (an elven princess, who despite disdaining the affairs of mortals, is unwittingly drawn into the drama), and Wilbur Weathervane (a gnome with a penchant for magic, to whom the archaeologist entrusts a magic ring).

The agents of the Army of Shadows do their best to thwart the heroes, but thankfully they prevail after many adventures (and a bit of romance).  The second game picks up after the events of the first, with everyone installed back in their (somewhat altered due to circumstances) lives.  Nate (with Critter’s assistance) is trying to secure a new artefact, Ivo is about to be married off to a more suitable match (her mother does not approve of Ivo’s dalliance with Nate), and Wilbur is starting his first day of teaching at the newly returned Mage School.

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a point and click adventure, with beautiful bright graphics, a lovely musical score, and high standard voice acting. Upon starting up the game, if you look closely, you’ll see that the papers on the title screen actually list different meat products, rather than the usual trope-ish undecipherable ancient script; that’s a good indicator of what is in store for this game (not a variety of smallgoods, but rather lots of quirky humour and side-gags – so far, I’ve not been disappointed).

The game opens with Nate falling down (or is it up?) after an unexplained explosion of some sort. After pointing and clicking your way to a lamp, you meet a djinn (who looks and acts suspiciously like Dobby the House Elf of Harry Potter fame). It seems his magic gone awry is what has put Nate in this position. Eventually you convince the djinn to make a carpet fly, and Nate seems about to be setting down on stable land, when he is knocked unconscious by the Critter.

bout2_nate_falling

We are now brought to a tutorial of The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 which doubles as the opening credits. You control a small robot through the scene in order to learn the controls of the game (which are pretty straight forward and consist mostly of left and right clicking). A very handy tip is to hit the space bar to show all available clickable objects on the scene at the time – I found this useful on numerous occasions when I got stuck and didn’t know what to do next.

The next stage of the game introduces us (or re-introduces us, if you’ve played the first in the series) to Ivo, the Elf Princess. Ivo’s mother, the queen, is berating Ivo for getting fat and is trying to set her up with a local Prince (whom Ivo is not interested in). Ivo is by no means overweight, and her mum is a bit of a bitch for pushing her unrealistic body image on to her daughter, if you ask me! Ivo is trapped in her bedroom with Cheep-Cheep, her small (in body, but not spirit) bird who is in collusion with the Queen in keeping Ivo confined. To further assist new players with the history of the previous game, Ivo waxes lyrical about her romance with Nate and a number of other exciting adventures with friends, and then it’s time to get her out of there.

Whilst I enjoyed clicking on items and collecting the various bits and pieces for my inventory, I confess it took me a while to figure out how get out of the room (via the balcony). I felt sure that the mirror I’d taken away from Cheep-Cheep could be replaced in its spot to distract him, while I climbed over the banister to the garden below, but the game would not let me do that. I eventually looked it up (thanks Google) and made my way into the next scene. This wouldn’t be the first time I needed a hand figuring it out; this seems to be a bit of a theme in point and click adventures –  the actual solution is sometimes bizarrely obscure and you either need luck or research skills to work it out.

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 actually does prevent you from straying from its linear path, however; if you haven’t completed the particular necessary step, you’ll just wander around aimlessly clicking on things and (if you’re me) getting frustrated. In that way, it’s less adventure, more point and click, which is a minor mark against the game in my view. It find it more satisfactory if you can work out the solution when there are a few different ways of solving a puzzle. However, there are plenty of other charms (as you’ll soon see) to more than make up for the linearity.

bout2_ivo_and_mother

Upon entering the library, we see the first of an absolute plethora of nerd culture references, and this becomes the real drawcard for Unwritten Tales.  It takes all the usual RPG tropes and flips them, resulting in clever, satirical humour.  I had a great time spotting all the geeky things and seeing what the game had to say about them. In the library, there was a Companion Cube, a Borg Cube and a Rubik’s Cube; a sword rack with Cloud’s Buster Sword from Final Fantasy VII and a Minecraft sword, and the comment about a king who made a throne out of swords; a helmet from Skyrim (from a country where the people yell things at dragons); an ocarina; and dragon eggs from Game of Thrones; not to mention plenty of other little gags and in-jokes which had me giggling to myself.  This is by no means the only area where you’ll find these little references, the game is literally full of them.  Anything remotely geeky is fair game, including the genre of point and click adventures!

Back to our Elf Princess: Ivo hasn’t been feeling well, so she wants to consult a book on elven medicine (who suggests is could be Lupus – which is a House reference, if you didn’t get it). At this point, I think I know what’s wrong with Ivo and it turns out I’m right – she’s pregnant! But given she didn’t undertake a special elven pregnancy ritual with Nate, or have actual sex like humans do (or did she? We aren’t sure at this stage, because that’s not the sort of thing princesses should know), the general consensus is that she’s been cursed.

After this diagnosis, it’s time to visit her parents and get things rolling. Ivo hopes to set off to the town of Seastone to get some more information from her friend the Archmage, Alistair. The Queen tells Ivo about an epidemic in the town, and whilst she doesn’t plan on getting involved, the King, (who reminds me very much of Radagast the Brown from Lord of the Rings – or the Hobbit movies if you are happy with certain directors messing around with classic storylines), encourages his daughter to make her way there and get to the bottom of things (including her mysterious pregnancy). A bought and paid for hippogriff (which is more hippo than griff) is delivered by the magically buffed-up Cheep-Cheep, and Ivo is off to Seastone.

Now it’s time to check in with another of the characters, Wilbur Weathervane, a gnome with an unusual predisposition to magic – he’s powerfully talented, but lacks any real control over his magic. He’s been given a teaching post at the recently returned Mage School (which at one point is referred to as a School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, yes, that’s right, Harry Potter fans…) and is not having much fun with his new students, who are difficult to say the least. As you can imagine, there are plenty of HP references throughout the school, as well as a mysterious box that may or may not have a dead cat in it…

Wilbur is given a number of tasks by the new headmaster (who has been installed by a political rival of Wilbur’s Archmage friend) and, in my opinion, the whole Wilbur chapter is where it’s at in terms of hilarious references and gags.  One of his tasks is to locate the missing library and make it available to the rest of the school again.  Getting to the library involves using a magical powder to be sprinkled in a fireplace (hmm, where have I heard that before?), and upon arriving, Wilbur is set upon by the confused, and somewhat deranged, books, who have lost their knowledge due to not having been read for twenty years.

After getting the books to trust him, Wilbur then sets off on a time travelling journey to the past with the aid of Emmett, the book on time travel (“Great Scott!”), to save one of their library-mates from rotting to death.  The various steps back are represented visually (and audibly) by the style of the adventure games of the past, starting with a return to 90s graphics and delicious midi music (and oh so realistic flame mechanics), then 80s graphics with no voice acting (Wilbur doesn’t like not hearing himself talk), and finally a basic text adventure (“how do you see?!”).  This whole sequence had me in squeals of delight, and if you are an old fogey like me, you’ll appreciate the nostalgic hat-tip too.

bout2_mage_school_entrance

The next part of the game brings us back to a very drunk Nate, attempting to negotiate with an equally drunk pirate, over the procurement of a magic lamp (the lamp from the opening cut scene). Now we get a chance to control Critter for a while, before sobering Nate up and passing the reins to him.  This is essentially the proper start to the game, and henceforth, you are able to switch characters as needed – which will no doubt come in handy for tricky puzzling later on.

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a fun, fairly straight forward point and click adventure, and with so many wonderful references, homages, and jokes, you’ll have a great time chuckling out loud, with perhaps even the odd guffaw.  The writing is exemplary and it’s really what separates this game from others of its kind.  I’m definitely going to check out the original and prequel afterwards too.

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