Once upon a time, the world abounded in point-and-click adventure games. Then the genre fell on hard times as new technology gave rise to a new breed of 3D genres. But there were some who have fought to keep the point-and-click dream alive. One of them is King Art.
The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is the latest in a storied if flawed lineage of traditional point and click adventure games produced by the German developer, and much like its direct predecessors it offers a familiar yet unique experience. In a time when the traditional point-and-click adventure still struggles to find an audience the King Art's efforts are certainly admirable, but trying isn't always enough.
We begin "Book 2" with a return to the magical world of Aventasia as well as the heroes of the previous tales: Ivo the elven princess, Nate the charming and roguish adventurer, Wilbur the gnome wizard, and Critter the, uh, furry critter.
If the name Aventasia has a familiar ring to it, that's because these so-called Unwritten Tales borrow or outright steal every fantasy trope, cliché, and well-worn plot device it can get their beautifully-drawn hands on. It’s how these are handled that gives the world of Aventasia its own unique flavour. There's plenty of homage in the parody of the Unwritten Tales, with references and jokes landing in thick and fast. Some are subtle, others will smack you in the face with a +7 Minecraft Sword of Obviousness. Both the writing and voice acting are clever enough to pull these jokes off most times, and the stunning hand-drawn visuals mean that the observant player will pick up many of the Easter eggs and more nuanced references scattered throughout.
Those returning to Aventasia will notice that the world looks very different to the one explored in the previous book. The graphics have been greatly improved, and the art style has taken a more illustrative bent. This adds to the whimsical tone, and gives the game a little more charm compared to what's found in previous entries. The backgrounds are rich, vibrant, and highly detailed - and in many cases are simply stunning. Every item in the game has been given the same treatment. It's a dramatic departure to the more realistic approach in Book 1, but it's better aligned with the tone King Art has aimed for in Book 2.
For the most part King Art has provided a serviceable narrative. There's a fair amount of predictability in the broader strokes, but there are enough surprises and deviations to keep things interesting. It’s not the most compelling story ever written, but there are more than enough charming pieces of characterisation and hilarious situations to keep the player engaged to the end.
In fact, wit and charm abound within the pages of Book 2, but an adventure game does not live or die by story alone. It is puzzles, dear reader, that maketh the adventure game - and what great puzzles there are to be found. Ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, the brain busters in Book 2 will variously delight and infuriate. Unlike so many others though, Book 2 manages to walk the knife's edge between challenging and unfair. There are a few times when a solution won’t present itself until another puzzle is resolved, but the game seldom leaves the player with nothing to do.
Trial and error puzzle solving is correctly kept to a bare minimum, and the game always remains true to its own (admittedly bizarre) internal logic. Is a happy willow blocking the sun from an area you need illuminated? Perhaps reading it excerpts from a book of carpentry will upset it enough to bring the requisite emotional response. After all, a weeping willow does not stand so tall. The puzzles do become more complex as the game progresses, and once united, swapping between characters in order to overcome roadblocks is required. This Maniac Mansion mechanic is really where the ingenious nature of the game's designers comes to the fore, and it's here that most players will find the most challenge.
The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 offers the best the adventure game genre has to offer. There are moments of triteness, and the occasional flat joke or piece of dialogue that doesn’t quite work, but it’s a beautifully realised game built with care and attention to detail.