The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles – Review

Title   The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles
Developer  The Adventure Company
Publisher  King Art
Platform  PC
Genre  Point and Click
Release Date  5th December 2012
Official Site

It seems that in every great story about a ragtag group of adventurers bought together through coincidence and fate that there exists a maverick; a handsome rogue who doesn’t play by anybody’s rules except his own, and looks damn good doing so. Occasionally, he’ll also be joined by an enigmatic sidekick whose origins and personalities (and even species) may wildly differ, though that won’t affect the powerful bond that unites the stalwart heroes. They’ll stick together through thick and thin, so united are these fire-forged protagonists, but how did they get that way? That’s a question that The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles – the prequel to the award-winning point and click,  The Book of Unwritten Tales, by King Art – attempts to answer by revealing how the series’ equivalent to Han and Chewie joined forces, the likes of which had never been seen.

Taking place before the story of Ivo and Wilbur, The Critter Chronicles concerns itself with Nate Bonnett and how he met and became friends with his furry companion Critter, as well as how they previously foiled the evil mage Munkus and earned a life-long hatred from Ma’Zaz the bounty hunter. Our story starts as Nate attempts to flee another town with an airship he’s scammed in a card game before he’s caught by the aforementioned bounty hunter. In his struggle to escape and finally begin the life of freedom he’s always dreamed of his vessel ends up crashing in Aventasia’s equivalent of the Arctic. From there lies good news and bad news: the good news is that help is at hand, the bad news is that said help comes from an irritating environmentalist by the name of Petra, a scientist searching for himself – but not in the way you’d think – and a colony of aliens who’ve also crash-landed nearby and are forced to aid Munkus if they ever want to return to their home planet. If players ever want to see the end credits, then they’ll have to surpass some yeti-related japery, environmental correctness gone mad and pop-culture references aplenty before the game is through.

Played in much the same way as all of the other recent point and click titles, Critter Chronicles allows you to access the inventory by moving your cursor to the bottom of the screen and reveals all of the surrounding interactive hot-spots through the space bar, though this latter option is disabled if you choose the harder of the two difficulties (but you can turn it back on again in the options without penalty). Much like the Mega-Monkey mode in the Lucasarts classic Curse of Monkey Island, you can opt into the hard mode from the beginning if you found the previous entry in the series – in this case Book of Unwritten Tales – to be too easy, or want a greater challenge. For veterans of the genre, this is the ideal way to play, as it’ll add a couple of extra steps to puzzles that already pre-exist within the confines of the game and do so in a way that feels organic and natural rather than obtuse and confusing.

Unfortunately, “obtuse and confusing” are just two of the words I can throw at the more difficult puzzles in The Critter Chronicles, as players may sometimes struggle to understand the developer’s logic behind several of them, which can often result in frantically clicking on hot-spots over and over and trying to use every item in your inventory until you get the right combination. Luckily, this process is streamlined thanks to the combination prompts only showing up if they actually represent a viable solution or a hilarious line of dialogue – this way you’re rewarded for thinking logically as well as for the occasional outlandish idea.

It’s just a shame that progress is bought to a halt more often than it should be, especially thanks to the ability to swap between characters to solve puzzles, which in the case of the trickier puzzles can descend into repeating the process of “use everything on everything”, but with a different protagonist. This can obfuscate the answers to some of the trickier sections where one character will point-blank refuse to obey your commands, leading to you thinking the prompt was a comic red herring, only to find that your other hero will perform that action without question. Thanks to Critter’s inability to speak, there are also puzzle solutions that tend to come out of nowhere, which doubles as a missed joke opportunity when they’re meant to be comical or referential.  One such example requires you to examine a painting and pull a blue portal out it – which you’re given no indication to do – and discover, once you examine the painting with Nate, that it contains a cake with the word ‘Lie’.

The worst example of this comes during the end-game; one of the final puzzles requires you to have knowledge of and reference a cult-classic point and click from 1993, and your failure to do so will prevent you from seeing the ending. There’s barely any indication that it’s the correct solution, no reason why it should work and it’s not even presented as a joke – it’s literally a reference for the sake of making a reference – which is both a detriment to your enjoyment of the final stages and probably the weirdest complaint I’ve ever had to make about a videogame before. While Critter Chronicles isn’t as funny as its predecessor – though I did find myself in hysterics at one point but can’t for the life of me remember why – it was the only instance when a joke or reference had fallen completely flat, and it happened at such a critical juncture in the story that it felt like a brick wall being erected just before the finish line.

Admittedly, it’s not that you’ll be absolutely desperate to see the conclusion, because the story quickly loses steam and instead meanders about for a while before reaching a conclusion six hours after you’ve started. This is in part due to three of the five chapters all taking place in the same location, and the fatigue starts to set in during the second of those chapters, as it slowly starts to outstay its welcome. Things get slightly better in the penultimate chapter – one that’s full of imaginative and exotic puzzles – but even that re-uses environments from Book of Unwritten Tales, and not in a particularly imaginative way. As a result, The Critter Chronicles started developing a strange, almost restrictive feeling thanks to its repetitive locales and the worrying realisation that only one or two characters actually disappear by the conclusion.

What allays those worries for the most part is a solid voice-cast who mostly perform their parts expertly, though Nate tends to have some lines that come across as oddly delivered in the early chapters. Though it’s not as funny as Book of Unwritten Tales overall, the voice cast do a tremendous job of making every successful joke funnier and cushioning the ones that fall flat, and despite the lack of memorable jokes, you’ll still find yourself in hysterics at some point before the credits roll.

Add in the reassurance that a great deal of the puzzles are actually rather ingenious when they all come together and you have a competent point and click at your disposal. Book of Unwritten Tales wasn’t necessarily a story that needed a prequel, and while The Critter Chronicles isn’t guaranteed to persuade you otherwise, it’s at least an inoffensively fun six-hour diversion that helps build the world of one of the best point and clicks of recent years.

  • Writing that hits more often than it misses
  • Great cast that helps rather than hinders the script
  • Some occasionally genius puzzles
  • Hard mode is a great addition for genre veterans and those wanting a reason to come back
  • Starts to outstay its welcome, even at six hours long
  • Can sometimes descend into "Use everything in your inventory until something works", or use obtuse developer's logic
  • Three of five chapters take place in the same environment with the same characters
  • End-game puzzle that threatens to stonewall just to make a reference for referencing's sake

If you're in need of a humourous point and click, then you can't go too wrong with Critter Chronicles. It may have the occasional flat joke or obfuscating puzzle and be over in a matter of hours, but you're not going to come away ultimately disappointed with your experience. Though it's not likely to be as well-remembered as Book of Unwritten Tales, The Critter Chronicles does well to expand the world of Aventasia and provide a fun excursion that will keep your point and click muscles flexing while you wait for something bigger and better to come along.

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