Wot I Think: The Book Of Unwritten Tales

By John Walker on October 28th, 2011 at 12:12 pm.

Well, okay, yes, it is yet another Mission Impossible joke.

A decent full-length adventure game is as rare as a completely uncooked Banjo & Kazooie developer, so when one comes along it’s time to take notice. That’s what we’re doing here. While certainly flawed, if you’ve ever cared about adventure games, then you should find out Wot I Think about The Book Of Unwritten Tales.

When I previewed The Book Of Unwritten Tales, I mentioned that they still had a couple of months to make some vital improvements, to what seemed to be one of the best full-length adventures in years. Playing the final version I can confirm that no such improvements have been made. Which has led me on an interesting journey, through being demoralised that the game was still jam-packed with poorly translated dialogue, missing elements, and missing logic pointers, then going onto realising I just didn’t care because the game’s so good, and finally resting at a point of pure confusion as to what I think, thanks to the game’s complete falling to pieces by the end.

Which leads to a predicament. How much is it possible to forgive? Unwritten makes mistakes that I would usually drag adventure games into a pit of spikes for making. But it’s also one of the best adventures I’ve played in so very, very long. It’s just, when the final moments of the game have all their text in German, after a stream of puzzles purely predicated on returning to locations you’ve just left for no reason, and a crummy closing sequence constructed entirely out of non sequiturs, it leaves the wrong taste in your mouth.

So instead I’m going to remember what makes this so good. As with any adventure game, the very last thing you should want is for me to tell you about it. Just like you’d have to be mad to read one of those book reviews that thinks it important to tell you the plot until the middle page, you shouldn’t want to hear anything beyond the premise. The very strange premise.

You’re trying to find some thingie. There you go. It’s a traditional fantasy world, more to spoof fantasy than anything else. What’s more interesting is who you are. Which is many people. There are, by my count, four characters you play as along the way, whose stories are connected by a need to prevent the evil baddies from getting the thingie. You play Ivo, a tall, underdressed elf, Wilbur, an adventurous gnome, Nate, a doofus human, and best of all, Critter, a pink… thing. For the first three of five chapters they’re pretty much independent, and eventually you’ll start being able to control two at once, solving puzzles by swapping between them and their specific abilities.

The game is as close to an epic as an adventure game can offer. From little beginnings, you start off with Wilbur in his home, doing his job, mulling around through his chores. The sense of scale is imposing, thinking back to that point in his adventure, and realising it feels so long ago, and the gnome such a different character. (As I previously mentioned, Wilbur is gaming’s first Welsh lead, which we can all agree is progress the gaming industry was desperately needing to make.) It’s an absolutely enormous game. Their own promotional material says it takes 20 hours to complete, but I’d say that’s a conservative estimate. And impressively, little feels like filler.

The sad thing is, the further you progress, the more broken it becomes. By the fourth chapter it seems like QA efforts fainted away, the impressive cast increasingly struggling to read nonsensical translations from the German, for which there is absolutely no excuse. I praised the game for making so much effort with the animations and inclusion of inventory objects in actions, but this pretty much disappears, characters instead just waggling empty arms near the thing they’re supposed to be interacting with, and then everything pinging into place. And where the game had near perfect puzzle logic, it starts to become lazier. (Let me stress the “ier” there – even at its clumsiest it’s a damn-site more effort than most modern adventures bother putting in.)

A puzzle asks me to find some mushrooms, purple with green spots. Long before I’ve reached this point I’ve been finding or making red, blue and yellow paints for reasons unknown, and I have some white mushrooms in my inventory. The puzzle is obvious. I try to paint the mushroom and am told, “Why would I want to do that?” It’s not until I’ve talked to the right random character who tells me they’re rare before I’m allowed to do what I was clearly always going to. Let alone my frustration with one especially complicated puzzle – I need some gold coins. Nearby there’s an area covered in gold coins. Literally hundreds of them, that can’t be picked up. In their midst is a locked chest. When I am finally able to open it, it contains… some gold coins. Headslap.

But this isn’t fair. This is the game at its worst, and it’s mostly at its best. And that scene with the gold coins – that’s very close to the sequence in which you get to play as Critter – one of the best characters in a game for over fifty million years. Speaking only gibberish, the Muppet-like blob of a creature communicates through his gorgeous animations, and is beyond adorable. I demand he receive a spin-off game immediately.

Those later sections also ramp up the game’s spoofing of the fantasy genre, especially World Of Warcraft. And do you know what? For once, as heavy handed as that spoofery is, it manages to be affectionate, and most importantly, often funny.

The game is consistently funny throughout. Although there’s an exception. Sadly when playing as Nate, his boorish attitude leads to some unpleasant moments. His mocking of an effeminate soldier, and his disgust at his pink clothing, is pretty damned uncomfortable, and while his sexism is intended to be his failing, he’s still just a game character being sexist. It’s not much fun to be in control of that.

But let me stress again: this massive game is mostly fantastic. If you can excuse the translation, the writing is really good, the jokes well conceived, and the puzzles well balanced. It’s mostly inventory-based activities, but there’s a pleasing understanding of the unlogic we all learned in the 90s.

It’s also exceptionally beautiful. The painted backdrops are breathtaking, and clearly created with enormous amounts of love. The characters themselves are wonderfully animated, and other than Nate, I’ve come away with a lot of affection for them. And wanting a Critter cuddly toy.

It definitely is one of the best adventures in years. It could have been a proper classic if they’d only taken more care. Those who played it in German probably saw the game at its absolute best. For those of us who require the English, there are compromises that are definitely worth it. An adventure this long is such a rare treat. One this enjoyable at the same time is almost unheard of.

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56 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    Rikard Peterson says:

    Those who played it in German probably saw the game at its absolute best.

    Is it possible to play it in German with English subtitles? (My German is too rusty.)

    • Boozebeard says:

      Well that wouldn’t really make any difference assuming the sub titles were the same bad translation as the voice actors scripts.

    • Masterofclay says:

      Hi Rikard,
      I work at King Art Games and to be honest, John Walkers complaints about the translation took us by surprise, because every other preview and review so far has praised the localization and voice work as top notch. Of course it was checked multiple times by English native speakers. The game has been translated and recorded entirely in London by one of the leading game localization studios.

      So the best thing to do, is to download the demo at http://www.unwritten-tales.com/demo_download.html and form your own opinion.

      If you ask me, the translation is top-notch and the voice acting even better than in the German version.

    • chabuhi says:

      We now turn to John Walker for his rebuttal.

      Honestly – I’m completely confused about this game now. John’s review seemed to offer every reason to avoid the game, but in the end he seemed to be suggesting that we ignore all that because we haven’t had a beefy adventure game in awhile.

      Then a purported employee of King Arts comes on to dispute John’s description of the game’s flaws, leading me to wonder if John got an unlocked full-version of an earlier build (I know, that’s a stretch).

      Plus, I’ve been to the demo download page in multiple browsers on multiple machines and have never found a link that actually initiates any download.

    • qrter says:

      chabuhi: I’m using Chrome, and I see six linked download mirrors under the bit of text, and that is with NotScripts and AdBlock running.

      (Just to be clear, RPS is one of the very few sites I don’t use AdBlock on..)

    • Dozer says:

      Ooh. Related note. How do I turn off Adblock for RPS? I’m pretty sure I whitelisted it but not completely sure I did it right. I’m using Firefox.

    • bill says:

      @chabuhi:
      that’s weird, because John Walker’s review seemed to me to be a summary of the good and bad points of the game and clearly point out many times that it was mostly good.

    • qrter says:

      Dozer: in Chrome’s case, you just left-click on the ABP icon and a window pops up to enable/disable for this particular site.

      Can’t remember how it works for Firefox, but it must be something similar, I used to ‘clear’ RPS in the old ‘fox too.

  2. The Hammer says:

    Hmm…

    Eurogamer.de, the German arm of the website, gave it 9/10, so that goes to prove the localised point.

    I like spoof games, but only when they’re good, and this one seems to both hit the mark and be genuinely entertaining in its own right.

    I’ll probably wait until there’s a patch out (if there ever is one) before I splash out on this, though. I watched the FMV trailer, riffing on Wrath of the Lich King’s cinematic, and it did look pretty amusing, but yeah… riddled with bugs? No thanks, not yet.

  3. Premium User Badge

    lhzr says:

    >>I demand he receive a spin-off game immediately.
    alrighty then: http://www.adventuregamers.com/article/id,1361

    tried the demo for a bit, but felt that the humor was kinda diluted and that the dialogue kept going for much too long. but all that’s customary for german games, so i’ll try to finish the demo, at least, perhaps it gets better.

    • devtesla says:

      Click that link everybody, it turns out that the original developers are almost finished with a sequel to this game that is actually focused on the Critters!

  4. db1331 says:

    It certainly looks great.

  5. Berzee says:

    It used to be that anyone who was serious about Theology had to learn German. These days it seems anyone who is serious about the computers games ought to be learning it!

    • UnravThreads says:

      Well, those who are serious about adventure games, RPGs and strategy. I remember Anno 1404 switching to German at one point in the campaign (Despite being patched), Drakensang has some moments of no translation and Patrician IV’s patches were all delivered in German.

      I don’t think this WIT has sold me on it, though. I absolutely hate it when I have no direction (Especially when I’m playing which should have direction, like adventure games) or a nonsensical direction like Keepsake often sprung on me.

      If a fan project tidies it up or an official patch does, then count me in, but until then? Nope. I got bored of the A New Beginning demo because the voice acting was so poor, so I couldn’t stand a full game with piss-poor voice acting.

  6. Acorino says:

    Hm, interesting. I thought Book of Unwritten was on par with Edna & Harvey. Sure, they got very different strengths and flaws and I dunno how well done the translations are.
    But I just find it curious that you prefer BoUT to such a big extent.
    All in all, I thought BoUT was more polished, but a bit forgettable. The humor was too lightweight to be really memorable, and while everything was charming and beautiful, it just wasn’t incredibly original either, not much about it seems unique.

    I thought Edna was more original, but less polished and more rough around the edges. I think the writing varied greatly in quality. I laughed many times, but some jokes simply fell flat. The puzzles were challenging, it was often satisfying to work out the cartoon logic, even if some solutions were too obscure and far fetched. And I really grew fond of the central characters, my Harvey plush toy is a testament to that! The story was more gripping, and the game continued to live in my memory.

    I really can’t decide which one is better. I simply love both!

  7. Tretiak says:

    Can German be funny?

  8. Chainsaw says:

    I’ve played this game after it came out in Germany.
    And it completely sold me on the Point & Click genre as a whole.
    It’s really sad to hear that the translation suffered and took away from this amazing game.

    I am currently playing the second game wich is called Critter Chronicles
    (at least translated thats what it would be called ^^)
    So Critter didn’t get a Spinnoff but he’s the main character now.
    So thats something right?^^

    • PleasingFungus says:

      For the record, since I assume you’re not a native English-speaker: a sequel with Critter as the protagonist is the definition of a Critter spinoff.

    • qrter says:

      That’s not really true, though – a spinoff implies he would get his own series, this is a sequel within an already established series. Not that it matters, the effect is still the same.

  9. sneetch says:

    That’s a pity, getting a good cast to read poorly translated dialogue makes no sense to me. I wonder if there is any chance that the devs will be bringing out an “Witcher Enhanced Edition” version which improves the translations.

  10. Premium User Badge

    G-Lord says:

    It’s a pity that the translation is so poor. I played the game in German and it is one of my favorite adventure game of the recent years. Now I’m playing the addon, which is great too.

  11. lithander says:

    What the big studios can do, we can do to: Day-one patch is here! It rigourously reduces the rate of exposure to German in written or audible form! :)
    http://www.unwritten-tales.com/box_version_patch.html
    The digital version available for download from our website does include those fixes allready and will not need to be patched.

    If you’re interested in the game but unsure of the quality of the translation there’s a demo, too:
    http://www.unwritten-tales.com/demo_download.html

    @Rikard Peterson: The UK Version does only ship english audio files. If you happen to have both the UK and the German version you could technically mix the data from the english and german language folder. But I didnt say that! :)

    • Berzee says:

      bravo!

      edit: whoa, your name links to Rune Hunt — double bravo :)

    • lithander says:

      Cool, I didn’t expect anyone here to have played Rune Hunt. I did that one in my spare time. These days I wonder where I found the time – guess it helped that back then I had no WoW account.^^

    • Berzee says:

      I used to frequent the flixel forums a bit more than I do nowadays :) I didn’t know it was finished! Exciting.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      Perhaps Sir Walkers’ issues stem from playing an unpatched version then? If lithander could inform Masterofclay that enough language issues did indeed exist to warrant a patch it might not sound like one hand is clueless (and defensive) of the other..

  12. zacharai says:

    It would be nice if this goes to Steam. I want this, but I also hate butchered translations.

  13. boywithumbrella says:

    edit: to stay relevant, before the rant:
    my girlfriend played it in German and enjoyed the hell out of it (playing literally days on end – and she’s not much of a gamer). I followed her progress from time to time, and have to say, that many of the jokes were either German-specific puns, or references to specific cultural phenomena – which I’d have a very hard time translating.
    Which is of course still no excuse for a bad translation.

    For once, we have a reverse example of the impact of bad translations – too bad it will again be only the gamers who notice the damage.
    This (translations always being worse than the original, just within a gradation of “bad”) is the reason why I play games in their original language (which is mostly English). However, I don’t live in an English-speaking country, which is where I come to my point:
    it is very sad (and frankly very annoying), how few games ask, what language to be installed in nowadays. If one is very lucky, language can be later changed in the launcher/menu. Less lucky – by directly editing some .ini-files. Unlucky – one has to fumble in the registry (which is a whole other set of fffuuuu). Most common – give up and die (or have a separate installation of Win~s specially for games, that is set to a location in say US) – that was the case with Alice Madness Returns for example.
    And even when the whole computer is configured to be English-speaking, I am haunted by my “being alternatively located” – for once I have to be wary of any boxed copies, which sometimes are only localised (without original English); then there’s Steam (which of course has to have my real address) – and thus gives me all the games in the local language – if I want it or not!

    • Masterofclay says:

      The game uses a universal humor most of the time. In case there were any jokes in the game relating to German culture, they have been replaced with equally or more funny ones that are intelligible to everyone. The localization studio http://www.omuk.com/ did a marvellous job in transferring all of the dialogue to English, without losing the wit.

      For everyone who got the impression of a bad translation from the review above, I can only recommend to play the demo and form their own opinion.

  14. John Walker says:

    Right, I think I’ve messed up a bit here if people think I’m saying the game is ruined by the translation. It definitely is not, and for the most part it’s very decent.

    But as I say, the later you get, the more there are lines that don’t quite make sense, or are clumsily translated. It is unquestionably not “flawless”, and given the time and inclination I could list a few dozen examples. But that’s over 20 hours of extremely enjoyable game! Like I say, I realised the game was so much fun that I stopped caring! It was just at the end, with the review code suddenly in German, and a disappointing final scene (after one of the nicest ideas I’ve seen in an adventure) left a bitter tone that did not reflect the rest of the game.

    I’m pleased to hear that some of this is fixed already, and I know the team are extremely quick to fix bugs when they’re found. I really highly recommend the game, as I think is undeniably obvious from the above.

    When your pull-quote is “one of the best full-length adventures in years” I don’t think there’s too much cause for confusion or consternation.

    • drygear says:

      Well the article was enough to make me want to buy it after not hearing anything about it or having any interest in it beforehand. I don’t know why other people are saying it’s putting them off.

  15. JTheysen says:

    “Flawless” is too much! But I think it’s a very decent localization (well above average we have been told). We fixed a couple of issues already and we are going to set-up a forum within the next days to identify additional problems.

    Thanks for the review, it caused some bandwidth problems and that’s always a very good sign! ;-)

  16. Khemm says:

    Pre-ordered the game a while ago, but for some reason it hasn’t been shipped yet. :(
    Can’t wait, if I like it, I’m seriously considering buying the game again digitally so KingArt get as much money as possible.

  17. sabrage says:

    Just tell me if they update it.

  18. piderman says:

    So I’m not a native German speaker. I know enough though to get the regular jokes but not enough to get culture references like the German version of “Mr. Underhill”. Should I rather play the game in German or in English?

    • JTheysen says:

      Hard to tell. I would probably go with the English version because that one isn’t a “British version” or a “US version” but an “international version” and we tried to avoid local references.

      By the way: The German version of “Mr. Underhill” is “Herr Unterberg” so that’s an easy one ;-)

  19. pupsikaso says:

    Why do I feel like you’re just trying to apologize for the game? Just say what you feel about the game, don’t try to defend it because there were something in it that you felt emotionally attached to.

    • Berzee says:

      Despite that, you really should try the demo if you haven’t. It’s much more fun than anything I’ve read or watched led me to believe…even though all I’ve really done so far is talk to people and solve a few easy puzzles.

  20. Berzee says:

    Ok, I’m playing through the demo presently — it’s better than I expected! Very pretty, nicely animated thus far, voices are great (especially the welsh gnome, as mentioned) … and the first main puzzle series in the demo strikes me as terribly funny. =P It has the kind of humor that could seem forced and too direct or nudge-nudge-wink-wink-y…except that it’s mostly delivered in quiet voices that carry on like nothing ever happened; and somehow that leaves me smiling instead of wincing. (The jokes seem a lot more comfortable than, say, Dredmor’s item names — even though they’re just as blatant).

    Anyone know if the textures are moddable? If I can give the elf a cloak of invisibility, this is a sure sale for me wif’ me birth-a-day money.

  21. Text_Fish says:

    Is this humour reliant on my having to understand all sorts of embarassing fantasy references? I could do with some good pointing and clicking but not if I have to wade through hours of nerd in-jokes.

    • piderman says:

      If the demo is at all representative of the rest of the game… I’d say try it and decide for yourself :)

    • Berzee says:

      In me own experience the demo DID have a ton of fantasy and adventure game in-jokes…but these weren’t the funniest or most important parts to me. The things I appreciated most were:

      1) The gnome protagonist at least doesn’t talk like a normal adventure game protagonist. He’s always very expressive and says charming things if you try to go through a locked door — instead of just saying “it’s locked”. Some people might find it tiresome after a while but I liked it. The conversations in general have been very fun (and the translation from German adds just the tiniest dash of surrealism).

      2) As far as jokes go, the in-jokes are alright, but there are some other jokes as well. Characters in general are good-humored; but the best part is when they make a tiny joke that fits a character, and make it gently recurring. For example, when Wilbur first sees a monkey he doesn’t know what it is, so he calls it a demon. He continues to call it a demon throughout the next 10 minutes of puzzles and conversations, even after being told that it is a monkey about 6 times. He doesn’t argue about it, he just…doesn’t change his mind. =P Maybe now I’ve said it, your enjoyment will be RUINED. But I hope not!

  22. fenriz says:

    what’s a “logic pointers”?

    Is it a device to smell wusses? :)
    Hell i remember in the good old times there were completely impossibly bugged illogical games such as Discworld. It’s only now that we complain about harshnesses.

    Is this a Lucas type of adventure? With no deaths and the usual linear puzzle-centric progression?

    Cause yeah i could use a new quest for glory.

  23. Chap O says:

    I purchased this game straight after reading John’s review but I am struggling to download it. Yesterday my browser told me it would take 7 – 8 hours to download the 3.7gb zip file, about 5 hours of downloading later my internet cut out :(
    Today I try again and it is downloading at 48 kBps – so should take 21 hours to complete!!! My internet connection should download at about 7Mbps – why is it so slow? :(

    • pupsikaso says:

      Perhaps you’re downloading from a bad mirror? Try another.

    • lithander says:

      The game is hosted at the company that’s handling the online purchase. They *should* be able to provide fast downloads. But just write an email to support@unwritten-tales.com and we can provide you with a fast alternative. (Let’s hope someone reads mails at weekends.^^ To be sure CC the mail to my private lithander [AT] gmx.de :)

  24. LionsPhil says:

    Wilbur is gaming’s first Welsh lead

    What about Lewton, from Discworld Noir, voiced by Rob Brydon?

    • qrter says:

      That’s funny, Brydon has been hoaring the same old story in recent interviews, about how much he hated doing videogame voiceovers. He doesn’t mention any game by name, but he says it was awful work.

    • Thants says:

      I bet that’s just because they wouldn’t let him do it as Michael Caine.

  25. drygear says:

    This game is incredibly charming. It’s colorful, I like the humor, I like the setting and characters. I’m not far into it but I’m loving it. I haven’t enjoyed an adventure this much since I played the Lucasarts ones as a kid.

    I’m not saying this is better than anything that’s come out since then, but this is just what I need right now I guess. Something with a nice fantasy setting that’s light-hearted.

  26. RegisteredUser says:

    Whenever I hear that translations are botched or done with wrong references/misunderstandings, I ask myself who is doing these. It’s been said it’s a professional studio..it feels like people who grew up bilingual would have done a better job of it at times than some studio(I will include myself in this, e.g., or various other fans with that precondition).

    I wonder if someone freelancing for this kind of stuff would have any chance to do translations for very small, indie-ish studios or whether the lack of references / “official studio name” (that will still end up putting out botched stuff as it seems) will completely prevent this from happening.