Review: The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 should’ve stayed unwritten

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Played on Nintendo Switch

Most of the time, you can play a video game’s sequel without having to play the prequel. Sequels tend to function just fine as a standalone game, any lore you may not understand is usually subtly explained to you throughout the course of the narrative. For example, you can play Dragon Age: Inquisition without having played any of its prior installments. You can play Super Mario Galaxy 2 before 1 and you can play Kingdom Hearts 3 without playing the other seven.

This is absolutely not the case for The Book of Unwritten Tales 2.

The vast majority of The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 relies so heavily on its predecessor that if you haven’t played the first game, you’ll feel like you’ve been left out of an ongoing inside joke. The game feels awkward. There’s the briefest of brief recaps in the start and that’s it. I don’t know who any of these people are, what they’re doing, or how they got here. I feel like I’m being shunned by the game itself.

The worst part of all this is that despite feeling like an outsider at a party that’s being hosted by someone you vaguely know, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 seems like a good game at surface level. The graphics are pretty great, although outfits tend to suffer from clipping pretty badly, and the voice acting is full of personality. It’s just a shame that I don’t have any idea what’s going on.

Now for a bit of backstory: The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a sequel to The Book of Unwritten Tales, strangely enough. It’s a comedy point-and-click adventure. After a successful Kickstarter campaign and a lengthy development time, the game saw release on almost every platform known to mankind in 2015 (it’s on Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One). It was later released again on the Wii U in 2016 and that brings us to its current incarnation – on the Nintendo Switch.

There’s four protagonists called Wilbur, Nate, Ivo, and Critter. They’re a gnome, human, elven princess who is the butt of multiple fat jokes despite looking like a thin elven supermodel, and ‘furry creature’ respectively. The game is set in the land of Aventásia, where a powerful and adorable force is turning fearsome beasts into cute little puppies and beautiful castles into intricately crafted dollhouses, and it’s up to our four heroes to save the world. Again. Apparently.

I went into the game having not played the prequel which, as you may have guessed, was a terrible mistake. The fact that half of the dialogue, jokes, and flavor text went straight over my head really detracted from my experience. To make things worse, the controls on the Switch port absolutely suck. I’d tell the controlled character to go left and they’d do a weird loop before heading upwards. If it weren’t for the fact that I respect my belongings and have decent anger management skills, I would have snapped the console over my knee in frustration.

Despite the fact that I was having an awful time playing The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, I tried to see the good in it. Like, sometimes you have to switch between protagonists in the same scene to successfully solve certain puzzles, which I thought was a pretty cool concept. The graphics are stunning and you can tell that a lot of love and hard work has been put into them. The jokes would probably be pretty hilarious if I understood the references.

It got to the point where I felt so bad about not understanding half of the hard work put into the game that I went and bought The Book of Unwritten Tales. It only took me about an hour or so of playtime in the prequel for the sequel to start making sense. The world went from being an infuriating inside joke that I wasn’t a part of to a rich tapestry of witty puns and fantastic storytelling. The controls still irritated me, but the urge to snap the console had all but disappeared.

Sadly, however, the fact that I had to buy the first game to genuinely enjoy or even understand the sequel had quite an impact on my view of the game. I believe that games should be able to carry themselves without using others as a crutch, the same way you can play Spyro 2 without having to play Spyro 1. Or, at the least, the recap at the start of the game should make sense to new players and actually let you know what’s going on.

In summary, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a hugely enjoyable game – if you’ve either already played the first or if you’re willing to buy and play the first before diving into the second. I feel bad for saying so many negative things about a game that’s obviously had so much love put into it, so I’ll say this: King Art Games, your work has not gone unappreciated. It’s just a shame that the game doesn’t work on its own.

More about the topics: King Art Games, Nintendo Switch, Nordic Games, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2