Mento's May Mastery '16: Day Twelve: The Critter Chronicles

The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles

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You know, perhaps the most remarkable thing about The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles is how little of it ties into or is referenced by the second (well, nominally) The Book of Unwritten Tales game. It's almost as if King Art Games didn't want people who didn't play this one to miss out on any callbacks, which proved to be a smart choice because The Critter Chronicles is completely inessential. We didn't really need to know how Nate met Critter; it's implied from the moment they show up in the first game that they're a fantasy Han Solo and Chewbacca equivalent, complete with tenacious bounty hunters on their tail and a (possibly) stolen ship that was won in a (probably) crooked card game. This game sets a lot of that up too, but what's the golden rule regarding prequels and anything Star Wars related? Unnecessary, as history has proven.

That isn't to say it's a bad game. I don't recall every mechanical feature that was in the first The Book of Unwritten Tales, as it's been a few years, but Critter Chronicles is jammed pack with all the convenience features that should be compulsory in every modern graphic adventure game: A button that tells you where all the hotspots are (and an option to turn this mode off, if you feel that not being forced to pixel hunt is "cheating"); hotspots that actually vanish once the game's had its little joke or two at the ultimately inconsequential background object; likewise, inventory objects don't even have a prompt if they can't be combined, unless the game has specifically written a joke for a particular item pairing; it closes off areas you no longer need to revisit to remove the amount of unnecessary backtracking; it lets you speed up walking animations with a double-click, or skip them entirely if you clicked on the exit to a different area; and the game ensures you're never lost by highlighting the current task at hand on the inventory pop-up. Even if the game wasn't gorgeous (though the character models are a bit rough close up) and the script both amusing and clever, this series would be an utter delight for adventure game fans for getting all of the above right. The developers clearly adore adventure games and have played more of them than most, and it shows with that attention to user friendliness.

The Critter Baby is a character that deserves to be remembered alongside other legendary comedy baby characters, like the Baby Dinosaur of Dinosaurs or that crack-up Bruce Willis baby of the Look Who's Talking movies. (How do you indicate sarcasm on the internet, again? Asking for a friend.)
The Critter Baby is a character that deserves to be remembered alongside other legendary comedy baby characters, like the Baby Dinosaur of Dinosaurs or that crack-up Bruce Willis baby of the Look Who's Talking movies. (How do you indicate sarcasm on the internet, again? Asking for a friend.)

I don't want to spoil anything regarding the plot of The Critter Chronicles (though as a prequel, there's a number of factors you can take for granted) but I will say that it has five chapters in total. Chapters are generally determined in-game as specific multi-part areas in which one or two "major" puzzles need to be solved, with a lot of minor puzzles in the way of those solutions. Five scenarios is actually kinda beefy, more than I was expecting for this little stop-gap while the second game was being developed, and I probably spent a good five or six hours with the game total. I rarely got stuck, but that's less to do with my limited perspicacity (I have to use big words to sound cleverer, for one) and more to do with how accessible the game is to a modern audience who were not weened on whatever bullshit nonsense Roberta Williams threw at us on the reg. That I was moving at a fairly brisk pace for those five hours should give you a decent idea of how much content there is here for what is often treated as a standalone expansion for the original game.

Of course, that doesn't exonerate it of its major faults. Critter and Nate are the least interesting characters in the series, the plot this game tells is entirely unnecessary - everything that happens in this game you already knew about because of incidental dialogue in the first, though perhaps not the fine details - and there are no new characters in the game that would appear or even get referenced in the second, unlike the massive number of callbacks there were to the first game in the sequel. You also spend about 60% of the game in the same area: a frozen tundra in the Northlands that has three screens total (four for Critter) to poke around in. The rest of the game takes place on Nate's ship The Mary and a brief stopover at Seastone, a location from the first game. And despite my saying that the game lightens up on meme humor more than its parody contemporaries, we still saw a "cake is a lie" goof (and man, did that one really get everywhere despite being such a minor gag in a game filled with major ones; even Lords of Shadow had one) and the loony animal activist Petra (I get it) holding an "a bukkit for every walrus" sign. Regrettable.

Ever wanted to see the
Ever wanted to see the "yup yup uh huh" aliens from The Muppet Show give in to their urges and make out, but the Jim Henson Company keeps returning your script treatments? This game's got you covered! Weirdo!

The Verdict: The Critter Chronicles definitely feels a little superfluous, but it has the Book of Unwritten Tales brand stamped on it and that still counts for an awful lot among dedicated fans of this often mistreated genre. If you've played the other two The Book of Unwritten Tales games and adore them, by all means check out this one too if you haven't already. For anyone else, and especially those for whom a little Critter goes a long way, I'd say just stick to the main games. Three stars.

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