The Book of Unwritten Tales: Point, click, laugh

August 1, 2012

It is difficult to write about point-and-click adventure games. They are the closest thing the gaming industry has to novels, and I’m no good at reviewing those either. You all already know how the mechanics of an adventure games work, and I’m not willing to tell you about the story because that’s the big draw and ruining that does both the game and the potential player a disservice.

What I can tell you is that The Book of Unwritten Tales does something that few other games are able to: it makes me laugh.

I love comedy, and I love video games, but since the comedy adventure genre all but died after the mid-’90s, it’s been harder and harder to find titles that were genuinely funny like Sierra’s Space Quest series and LucasArts’s Grim Fandango. The Book of Unwritten Tales is another entry in that category, though, and what’s even more surprising is that it was translated from German and remains funny. German is a very strict language, and a lot of humor can come from that. English, by comparison, has no rules at all, so jokes that work in German don’t make any sense in English, and jokes that work in English are nearly impossible to translate into German. The localization team did a fantastic job here. You’ll laugh, and that laugh was hard-earned.

The characters and the world they inhabit are all brought to life beautifully. The characters sometimes clash with the backdrop, but the scenes are so beautifully painted that, while the difference is noticeable, it doesn’t make sense to be upset about it. The characters are all vibrant and humorous. Death is skeletal and ominous and holding his trademark scythe. But he’s also wearing pink bunny slippers. The ogre looks menacing, until you notice his immaculate manner and penchant for the written word, and the paladin’s manliness is contradicted by his collection of cheerleading pom-poms. It’s refreshing to play a game that isn’t afraid to lean on farce and ridiculousness to put a smile on the player’s face.

Where The Book of Unwritten Tales falters is in all the usual places a point-and-click can. It’s not always immediately obvious when part of the background can be interacted with. It’s not always clear what can be picked up because items blend in. And it’s a bit annoying to click on a thing to hear about it and then need to click on it again to pick it up. These aren’t deal-breakers, but developers have been creating these sorts of games for long enough that we should be beyond this.

The Book of Unwritten Tales is funny, charming and full of interesting characters. It’s worth it to looks past its few warts to lose yourself in some comedy and enjoy the story, until the end anyway. The last chapter sets up a sequel that may or may not ever see the light of day. I understand the desire to tell a long narrative and entice players to purchase a follow-up game, but the lack of closure at the game’s conclusion is a real disappointment.

Pros: Great characters, fun setting, genuinely funny
Cons: All the typical point-and-click failures are present and accounted for

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.