It's no secret that there has been a resurgence in the popularity of point-and-click adventure games in recent years, with titles such as Life is Strange receiving both critical and player acclaim and Telltale Games gaining similar plaudits for the likes of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. The genre is ripe for the plucking and in The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, KING Arts Games presses its tongue firmly inside of its cheek and sets out to do just that.
A sequel to a 2009 German PC title and its prequel add-on content The Critter Chronicles, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 focuses upon the stories of three unlikely heroes as they move on from the past adventure that united them and face a whole new bundle of fantasy-ripe calamities. No-nonsense elven princess Ivodora Eleonora Clarissa, known throughout the story as Ivo, for example, has been placed under house arrest by her mother, the Queen, who worries terribly about how "positively rotund" her wayward daughter has become. The first major section of the game - following a humorous little Game Of Thrones-inspired opening intro and tutorial section - finds the player figuring out a way to first break Ivo out her bedroom. That's before exploring a small, yet immersive area of the castle and gardens in search of a way to discover why she has been feeling so unwell. Elves, we are told, seldom get sick, so there must be something more going on.
The scenery is gorgeous throughout. Not only Ivo's home, but the entire world of Aventásia, and it's all filled to the brim with little pop culture references such as a stuffed monster in the castle library that bears an uncanny resemblance to Sully from Monsters Inc, through to a pixellated Minecraft sword skilfully hidden among the weapons taken from those foolish enough to try and overthrown the elven kingdom. Each small area is littered with items, some which are useful and others which simply offer some colourful background commentary. As the player explores the area, they must interact with and pick up highlighted items using the A or B buttons to, in classic point-and-click fashion, figure out how to achieve the character's current objective. Items, once collected, can then be combined with each other in the player's inventory to create useful tools or key items which further the story and the game appears to offer more than one way to reach your objective. For instance, when Ivo needs to catch a red herring to make a potion, she can practice fishing with a rod that she borrows from Arbour, who also happens to be an amusing Ent (like Treebeard from Lord of the Rings, only much smaller and more animated) until she catches one. This is a slow process that can be boosted by reading a book on fishing in the library, but is also one that enables her to make occasional quips about raising her skill level since she's never fished before in her life. Alternatively, she can acquire some worms to use as bait in order to speed things up, which she can attach to the rod using another item that can be found around the place.
Aside from Ivo, there are two other protagonists to encounter. Nathaniel Bonnet, a resourceful human adventurer and Ivo's former "idiot" love interest has gotten himself into some bother with a magic lamp and an socially-anxious genie with his companion Critter. Also, mage gnome Wilbur has stumbled across an evil plot to murder the archmage in the academy where he has been teaching magic. With plenty of genuine laugh-out-loud moments, the other heroes' sections are just as immersive and fun to work through as the game leads them individually through their own, seemingly unrelated, adventures before bringing them all back together again in a way that is both pleasing and fun to watch unfold. We won't spoil any of the story for you here but The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 takes known fantasy plot tropes and makes them feel as fresh and exciting as they have ever been told before, which is no easy feat.
The pacing throughout the game is slow and deliberate, as to be expected in a game which tells its story through interaction with the world it encompasses. The characters mostly move around the world smoothly and it is never difficult to get them into position to interact with a certain item. The right-stick comes in very handy in that regard, taking the role of a mouse cursor to enable to player to toggle through the available interaction prompts without having to be standing looking directly at them. The solutions to each individual puzzle are not readily apparent and players who are new to the genre may need to take some extra time to fully explore the area and work out what they need to do, but this never gets tedious and there is plenty to interact with and keep the player immersed. All possible interactive items on the screen can also be highlighted at once to reveal their location with a simple press of the X button if you feel as though you are missing something and the character can comment on items by pressing B, often revealing clues, which is a nice addition in the place of a direct hint system.
There is a plentiful supply of dialogue throughout The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, either in the form of the protagonist talking about the item which the player has interacted with or between characters. The protagonist's monologues are often self-deprecating and laugh-out-loud humorous as they poke fun at themselves and the fantasy world around them. During conversation, a dialogue box opens up with a variety of conversation topics or questions that can be posed. As with the many items found around the world, some conversations can progress the story or offer clues, while others simply offer background information and it is up to the player how immersed in conversations they wish to become. The voice acting is mostly exceptionally well done but at times, with a certain character, it feels somewhat forced and makes what should be a fun scene appear silly for the wrong reasons. Fortunately though, this is an occurrence that does not happen so often that it ever becomes unbearable and can be forgiven when the majority of the dialogue is so well delivered.
Overall, the game is a superb addition to the genre. Coming in at around 20 hours of gameplay depending on how much you explore each area of the game, there is enough to keep players immersed and the price tag seems more than fair. Fans of point-and-click title will feel at home with the gameplay and immersive story, while newer players should be able to pick it up without too much trouble and will quickly find themselves hooked.
The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a sprawling adventure that does not take itself too seriously, yet offers up fantastic storytelling in an immersive and gorgeous-looking world. Its slow pace and lack of true action will not appeal to everybody but with popular culture references galore and a cast of heroes that you can't help but develop a fondness for, it's a title that can sit proudly with others in the genre...if it can get away with mocking them all mercilessly, of course.