Playing The Book of Unwritten Tales is like opening a game preserved in a time capsule for the past two decades. This traditional point-and-click adventure originally released in Europe in 2009 harks back to the days when Sierra and LucasArts ruled the world with legendary franchises like King's Quest and Monkey Island. German developer King Art has crafted a lighthearted fantasy grounded in an earthy sense of humor and grown-up story themes and has avoided the impossible, illogical puzzles well known to plague other games in the genre. In short, this is a great achievement in both story and design that should be played by anyone who appreciates an old-school adventure.
Wait a sec--isn't this book supposed to be 'unwritten?'
While The Book of Unwritten Tales is a striking name for an adventure, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you start thinking about it. How exactly does one put together a tome filled with "unwritten" stories anyhow? Thankfully, the plot makes more sense than the title. The cinematic saga on tap here tells the story of a medieval fantasy land embroiled in a war between the good-guy Alliance of humans, dwarves, gnomes, and the like, and the evil Shadow Army stocked with the usual trolls and goblins. The bad guys are on the offensive as the game begins, with the monstrous Munkus, son of the Shadow Army's boss witch Mortroga, kidnapping the rather Yoda-like Professor MacGuffin.
This wizened old archaeologist may just know the whereabouts of an arcane gadget called the Artefact of Divine Power that could change the course of the war. After a brief escape aided by the shenanigans of a sexy, scantily clad wood elf named Ivo (she's more Lohan than Lothlorien), MacGuffin hands the fate of the world (and a golden ring) off to a geeky gnome kid named Wilbur Weathervane, and you spend the rest of the game swapping between this duo and a rakish rogue named Captain Nate Bonnett. Resemblances to hero-saga myths from King Arthur to Star Wars are entirely noncoincidental.
But even though the story weaves together a lot of familiar themes, it does so in entertaining ways and lasts a just-right 12 to 15 hours of play time. The art is gorgeous and cute, but not cutesy. Some scenes are reminiscent of a cartoon speckled with unicorns and rainbows, while others feature grim reminders of war, such as executed enemies strung up from trees. There is a great balance to the game's settings. All of the characters are interesting and voiced by competent actors. Wilbur, for instance, could have been either a wide-eyed innocent or a total smart-aleck, but he's played with real balance and given dialogue that is self-deprecatingly admirable without tipping over the edge into cloying territory. The game also mixes a sense of wonder common to playing-it-straight fantasy with a fair number of wink-wink, nudge-nudge moments that almost break the fourth wall.
Indiana Jones couldn't have done any better.