Beware the Yeti
Reviewed on the PC by Alex Trotter-Fernandez
Ah, the point and click game. Most of us have warm fuzzy memories of classics like Monkey Island and Myst, and recently the genre has seen a resurgence following the tail of Telltale‘s Juggernaut The Walking Dead: The Game. Over the past few years we’ve seen many titles which have attempted to hearken back to the good old days of point and click adventuring, many falling completely flat and many succeeding and evolving the genre in an exciting way. The Book of Unwritten Tales: Critter Chronicles falls somewhere in the middle.
A follow-up from last years The Book of Unwritten Tales, Critter Chronicles is a charming yet occasionally frustrating grin-fest that’s deeply rooted in the tradition of Monkey Island era point and click adventures. It follows the adventures of a naive adventurer called Nate, whom seems to be modeled on Zapp Brannigan, and the critters themselves; an alien species which appear to be the Jim Henson answer to purple nostril hair. It’s all dressed up in an adorably cute fairy tale style which often guises the game’s surprising adult tone. Most of this “mature/immature” content would fly over the heads of younger gamers who will probably be enamored by the story telling, slapstick nature and general silliness of the plot, but drunk penguins and chuckle inducing jabs at oh-so-serious organisations like PETA should induce an adult smile.
Critter Chronicles may not be the most technologically advanced game in the world, but the art design is quite beautiful and well considered. Each scene looks wonderful combining fairy tale aesthetic with a colorful Monsters Inc style playful backdrop for alien interiors. The animation of the critters is fluid and fun to watch. In comparison to Nate’s clunky animation, the smoothness and goofiness of the purple hero you later control is reminiscent of classical stop motion control in the Morph/Wallace and Grommit vein of things. Voice acting in general is fun and in keeping with the tone of the game. The word pantomime springs to mind, with characterization feeling purposely over the top in a very clever grandiose way. They’re the kind of the performances that draw back memories of visiting the local Christmas pantomime and watching defunct soap stars try and claim back some of their “former glory” whilst dressed in drag. I don’t mean that in a negative way, because overall it’s in keeping with over the top and generally silly tone of the Critter Chronicles experience.
Silliness aside there are few problems in the way the story is presented. You take control of two different characters, the always charismatic scene chewing Nate and the dopey Muppet hero who desperately wants to make his girl happy and do the right thing. Whilst the latter is often adorable and cute in a Wall-E kind of way (h1e’s the only Critter who can’t speak English), and his clumsy shenanigans often bring around a smile, he doesn’t quite live up to the boisterous and lively nature of his co-star. Unfortunately as the game progresses even his pop-culture laden comments (there’s a great scene early in the game which parodies Empire Strikes Back) starts to fall a bit flat. Irrelevant pop-culture references are thrown at you at every single opportunity. Whilst they may provoke the odd laugh or two at first, after a while it becomes numbing and you become immune to their charms. That being said Critter Chronicles is still a very funny game, even if at times the humor outstays it’s welcome.
Like most entries into the genre, Critter Chronicles is build around environmental puzzles. Nate may be dimwitted but he sure does have a MacGyver-esque prowess when it comes to escaping impossible situations. Utilizing items in the environment to escape situations and solve puzzles can be a lot of fun, but at the same time it can be incredibly frustrating. Experimentation is key, but because there is specific way and order in which you need to solve puzzles it feels less like creative engineering and more like clicking on stuff till it works. It can become very convoluted at times, with each action feeling like another layer of padding to extend the scene.
The Book of Unrwitten Tales: Critter Chronicles is not a difficult game, but somehow it imposes a kind of artificial difficulty in the way that one must solve puzzles in a very specific way. Sometimes it defy’s all logic, and other times it gets in the way of progressing through the chapter. Don’t get me wrong, some of the puzzles are fun to solve and the outcomes are often unexpected with plenty of twists on the horizon. That kind of ingenuity is what you want to find in a point and click adventure game. Solutions often go wrong with hilarious outcomes and that’s both a refreshing and surprising way of handling the puzzle format.
The Book of Unwritten Tales: Critter Chronicles is not a bad game. In fact it’s charm, humor and artistic style often lift it above it’s problems with frustrating, occasionally lackluster puzzles, creating a memorable experience. But when the game part of the game becomes so incredibly tedious it hampers what’s often a charming tale of hilarious narcissistic captains, evil looking penguins and adorably goofy space aliens. It’s a shame then because KING Art get so much right with this game, from the tone to the interesting characters that you actually care about. Either way this ten to twelve hour experience should be on the cards for those with an undying love for the point and click puzzle genre.