Book of Unwritten Tales 2 Review (PC)
When you spend most of your waking hours immersed in video games and geek culture, it’s not often that you get caught completely off guard by a game that almost went by unnoticed. Yet that’s exactly what happened with Book of Unwritten Tales 2, the follow-up to a 2009 point-and-click adventure originally released in Germany and the United Kingdom. Even without having played the first game—or really being aware of the sequel until last week—I couldn’t helped but be charmed by Book of Unwritten Tales 2’s charming story, witty puzzles, and tongue-in-cheek humor. Though occasionally marred by technical issues and cumbersome segments, Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a delightful experience I’m happy to have been surprised by.
At first glance, the storybook menu interface and fantasy setting of Book of Unwritten Tales 2 seem almost painfully cliché. That’s not to say it doesn’t look nice; the world is alive and full of detail, and the characters are infused with personality and supported by strong voice acting. I just couldn’t help but think “An elf princess? A spell-wielding gnome? A rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold love interest? Haven’t I seen this all before?” On top of that, a clunky opening segment and dull tutorial didn’t make the best first impression—especially since I wasn’t familiar with the events of the previous game. Once it stopped holding my hand and gave me control over the game’s first playable character, rebellious elven princess Ivo, I realized that Book of Unwritten Tales was much more clever—and humorous—than it first appeared.
Nursing a broken heart after the events of the previous game, Ivo is under close watch by her mother, the Queen, who just wants to see her daughter settle down with a nice elf prince. Ivo has other ideas, and as it turns out—whoops!—she’s pregnant and must find out why (traditional means were not used, we soon find out). Her quest for answers takes her away from her kingdom and into the human world, where time moves differently and her pregnancy progresses much more quickly. Meanwhile, gnome mage Wilbur is struggling through his first day as a teacher at Seastone’s school of witchcraft and wizardry, and aforementioned rogue Nate is stuck on a floating pirate island. Their adventures eventually reunite these old friends—or exes, in Nate and Ivo’s case—and they join forces in pursuit of a common goal, stopping the entire world from becoming way too cute and pink from magic spells gone awry. Hey, it’s an adventure game, it’s supposed to be a little wacky.
It doesn’t take long to become acquainted with Book of Unwritten Tales 2’s controls, which will feel comfortingly familiar to any fan of 90s adventure games. No, the verb commands of yore aren’t present, but there is an inventory system, and most of the game involves finding objects to use with other objects—easier said than done, obviously. As we become acquainted (or re-acquainted if you played the first game) with Ivo, Wilbur, Nate, and a varied cast of supporting characters that includes rats, talking trees, and zombies, we find that Ivo’s mysterious pregnancy is just one of the many strange things going on in this world—and only by working together can this team figure out how to save it.
When I say “working together,” I mean that literally—there are sections of the game in which you’ll switch back and forth between two characters in a way that’s very reminiscent of Day of the Tentacle. This is a double-edged sword; on the one hand, the mechanic adds depth to the strategy, as you’re tasked with figuring out objectives for two characters at the same time. On the other, something as simple as handing off an object to the other playable character can involve a minute or two of switching back and forth as you slowly direct each character to his or her desired location. Maddeningly, a useful item that allows Wilbur to jump around one of the game’s repeated towns early in the story isn’t present later when controlling two characters. It didn’t ruin the gameplay, but being able to automate some of the cumbersome movement would have created a more streamlined experience.
While the puzzles are clever, my favorite thing about Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is its self-aware humor. References to other video games and pop culture are present throughout despite the pre-technology setting, and it’s easy to see where this game drew influence from the likes of Harry Potter, Star Wars, Aladdin, and other classic tales. There are even nods to other video game genres and eras—at one point early in the game, Ivo dons a hat that dramatically raises her fishing skill—a skill that’s not actually needed to progress. There were quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, as well as plenty of times I felt like I was in on the joke, like when Wilbur traveled back in time to an era that was a bit more two-dimensional and pixelated.
Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is also fairly lengthy for a game of this genre—there’s a meaty story that takes a while to get through, especially with three main playable characters to switch between. It’s unfortunate that the 15-to-20-hour experience is marred by technical issues, though. Most common were audio hiccups, like dialogue going silent or shifting in volume—certainly not a game-breaker, but still distracting. More annoying were moments when characters wouldn’t respond to commands, or took an extra few seconds to do so, and one glitch stranded a bird I needed off-screen, forcing me to reload my last autosave. The more serious glitches were rare, but still noticeable, and detracted from an otherwise throroughly enjoyable game.
Despite the minor issues, it’s hard to deny that Book of Unwritten Tales 2 has everything I like in a point-and-click adventure: fun puzzles, memorable characters, and plenty of heart. It’s not quite as smart as the shining stars of the genre, but it’s a strong enough experience to stand out amongst beloved classics. It’s not often that a game leaves such a good impression after almost no fanfare, but I’m glad I stumbled across this one; as a longtime fan of the point-and-click adventures, I know good ones are few and far between, and Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is definitely an adventure worth embarking on.
This review is based on a download code of Book of Unwritten Tales 2 provided by the publisher for PC.