The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles Review
The Book of Unwritten Tales was truly a great production, one of the best adventure games I’ve played in years. It was long, it was fun and above all left the player in stitches thanks to its brilliant humour and tons of pop culture references. Now we can once again embark on an adventure to that crazy fairy tale land thanks to a stand-alone add-on, namely The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles. However, it isn’t (unfortunately!) a direct continuation of Wilbur and his friends’ epic quest, but a prequel, introducing previous shenanigans of captain Nate Bonnet and his unusual companion – furry, pink critter named… Critter. And even though The Critter Chronicles is not nearly as fantastic and hilarious as its predecessor, it’s still a wonderful game worth a candle. Maybe even two.
When we meet Nate for the first time, he’s knee deep in trouble (which is actually quite normal state for him), because he had managed to win in cards a flyship Mary from a certain pirate. So far he has problems with distinguishing between the rudder and the starboard, but he’s very optimistic about the whole situation. He forgot about one tiny detail, though – during the game he was cheating like crazy and now a she-orc mercenary Ma’Zaz is after him to retrieve the “stolen” airship. Still, Nate is one clever guy and with a little help from his cunningness, a few ruses and a handful of confetti he manages to temporarily get rid of his pestering nemesis. Unfortunately, his non-existent flying skills cause him to lose a battle against the floating island and the encounter ends up in a spectacular crash somewhere among the snowy wasteland and is followed by the unexpected visit in… the Yeti’s cave, where the monster wants to turn Nate into a stew. The unlucky captain is saved by the exceptionally eloquent representative of a race of pink Muppet-like creatures, who have troubles with Munkus – a villain who was getting on our nerves also in The Book of Unwritten Tales. This time the toady monster stole the energy source from the Critters’ ship and without it they can’t return home. The creatures have no other choice but to team up with Nate. If the man helps them to reclaim their possession, they will repair his ship and everyone will be happy. The self-centred captain has other plan, though…
This is the outline of the plot that encompasses five chapters. After finishing The Critter Chronicles, I know at least why it’s called a stand-alone add-on. We shouldn’t count on adventure as long as The Book of Unwritten Tales was. Beating The Critter Chronicles on a normal difficulty level takes around seven, ten hours tops. On a hard level, which includes more puzzles and less hints, slightly more. The game is thus relatively long, but still at least half shorter than TBoUT. We would certainly want more. It is true that the story is not particularly gripping, it lacks surprising turns of evens and we know nearly from the beginning how everything will end (it’s a prequel after all), but the strength of the game doesn’t lay in the plot, but in the humour. Just like in TboUT we have here a real tsunami of jokes and pop culture references, often as subtle as taking a hammer in your face. Fans of Star Wars, Star Trek or Harry Potter will without a doubt notice various interesting details hinting at their favourite movie or book. We’ll also get to think in portals! GlaDOs should be proud. Or not, who can tell with her… Anyway, it was a long time since the fourth wall was being shattered so eagerly as in The Critter Chronicles. You should definitely pay attention to the penguins which are the masters of the background. Just looking at them guarantees fits of laughter. By the way, do you remember a flash game called “annoy the penguin”? Yep, you can find an allusion to it here as well.
Pity, though, that we won’t encounter more NPCs. True, we can get acquainted with a rabid eco-terrorists Petra, a professor with split personality, a talking painting and the baby-Critter, who deserves his own spin-off, but it is just a drop in the ocean of our huge expectations after seeing plethora of great characters in The Book of Unwritten Tales. Another gripe with the game is that we only traverse a few locations at best among the snowbank which gets slightly tedious after a while. A notable exception is the fourth chapter in which we travel to an architectural nightmare that can truly disturb our space-time continuum. Still, a little more variety in The Critter Chronicles wouldn’t go amiss.
At least, even those few small locations have a lot of ingenious puzzles in stock. Just like in the predecessor, most of them are inventory-based and involve using the gathered objects in appropriate places. Usually the combinations are rather logical, considering we operate in a magical reality where everything can happen, but sometimes the only option available is to use “everything on everything” and praying that somehow we’ll trigger some progress. A clinical example of this approach is the conundrum with paintings. Don’t worry, I won’t give away the solution here but if it wasn’t for my desperate attempts to click the screen to death I seriously doubt I would have figured out what had to be done there. Apart from inventory-based puzzles, we’ll also pick here a lock of a chest, colour the painting with oil paints and crack open the secret hiding place protected by a complicated mechanism. Those are nice distractions, which definitely make the game more varied.
When it comes to the interface, The Critter Chronicles is almost identical to The Book of Unwritten Tales. That’s good because why change something that was good in the first place? Depending on the shape of the cursor, left mouse button enables us to begin a conversation, examine something closer, perform an action or collect an item. The inventory opens when we move the cursor to the bottom of the screen and we can look there at the collected objects with the right mouse button. Space bar highlights all the hotspots and – what is new – shows our current objective. This and the fact that the used hotspots disappear, really makes our lives easier. More less in the middle of the game we get an option to play both as Critter and Nate, switching between them when needed. The cooperation is the key to success, since the pinkish creature is of a rather miserable height and the captain cannot float like a balloon when pumped with air. What’s more, the heroes can exchange items, so when one of them cannot perform certain action, maybe the other will.
Graphics in The Critter Chronicles is not really different from the one we could see in The Book of Unwritten Tales – it’s gorgeous. Despite the rather monotonous scenery in the land of snow, we can still notice quite a lot of details. And for the previously mentioned chapter four the designers should get an award for creativity. It’s also nice that the locations load quicker, which should made the owners of older PCs happy. The animation is also top-notch, especially the lip-synch, something that often is neglected by developers. And speaking of… well, speaking, the game has a great dubbing. The actors from The Book of Unwritten Tales have returned to their roles and the new voices also did a great job. Music is beyond reproach as well. No wonder, since we’ve already heard a lot of melodies in TBoUT and grew to like them.
In theory you can play The Critter Chronicles without knowing The Book of Unwritten Tales, but I really don’t recommend that option. Even though the game is a prequel, only the previous knowledge about the original story will make you enjoy the experience to the fullest. Anyway, the game is fun, relatively easy and very gigglifying. It’s definitely worth spending a few hours of your life with it, even if only to get to know a little bit more about the past of your favourite characters. Still, I dream all the time about the proper sequel…
FINAL SCORE: 8/10
Humour! (penguins included)
You can find more about the background of some characters
Great graphics and voice-acting
Too few locations to explore and characters to talk to
Some of the puzzles are rather illogical and not sufficiently explained.