While English speaking gamers still have to wait a while longer for the first installment of The Book of Unwritten Tales, developer KING Art Games have long been hard at work on The Critter Chronicles, a standalone prequel due out in Germany this month (an English release is also in the works, but the projected target of 'spring 2012' hasn't yet been confirmed). At the gamescom in Cologne, we got the chance to see for ourselves what the new game is all about. Better two games to look forward to than one!
One of the most popular characters from The Book of Unwritten Tales is the Critter, a hairy purple creature who cannot even speak properly but is cute and funny in his own adorable way. Marco Rosenberg, designer for KING Art, experienced just how popular first-hand when he visited the convention with a life-sized Critter doll on his arm. He was overwhelmed by the number of people, predominantly women, wanting to stroke it or have their picture taken with him. I must admit I couldn't resist photographing the handsome duo myself.
The Critter Chronicles is bound to have an even higher cuteness factor, as it’s set in the Northlands, the permanently frozen region where the Critters live. Nate, one of the main characters in The Book of Unwritten Tales, crashes his newly acquired airship there while trying to flee from bounty huntress Ma'Zaz. The peaceful Critters don't usually get many visitors, but lately they've had their fair share. Not only has extreme animal rights activist Petra chosen their habitat as her new base from which to protest everything and anything that can be protested (one of her placards disapproves the lack of hotspot locators in hidden object games; another asks us to stop playing point-and-click games to protect mice), a certain Munkus has discovered the Critters have been hiding some kind of secret for many years, and he thinks it is something he can use for his Shadow Army. As Munkus is truly evil, he doesn't take no for an answer and starts a fight with the poor creatures. Nate ends up right in the middle of the struggle purely by accident, and discovers that much is to be gained by helping the Critters out.
In the first of five chapters of The Critter Chronicles, players control Nate, a human treasure hunter, before taking over as the Critter in the second. The following chapters allow freely switching between the two to interact with the environment and other characters such as a Yeti researcher and a colony of Critters. A particular baby Critter can talk, but all he does is echo the last words he heard in the same voice as the original speaker, without actually understanding what he says. This will of course be a key factor in one of the puzzles in the game. Another puzzle is based on the famous drawings of M. C. Escher, with their confusing perspectives and stairs going nowhere or doubling back on themselves. Nate and the Critter must enter the building of a magician, which consists of numerous doors and staircases, all at odd angles with each other. By cleverly switching between the two characters, players have to find their way to a particular room while walls become ceilings and doors become hatches.
The game will have two difficulty settings: Normal and Hard. Normal should be more or less the same difficulty as the first game, while Hard will provide fewer clues through feedback from other characters, no hotspot locator and a few different puzzles. For instance, on the easier setting you can find black powder to fire a cannon, but in Hard mode you'll need to gather some ingredients to mix your own. By manually switching on the hotspot locator in the harder mode, you can create an additional third option between the two. On either setting, the cursor changes colour when you are trying to combine objects and a possible combination is detected. That doesn't always mean the combination is valid, as some will still result in a specific refusal, but in general this eliminates the need to combine 'everything with everything' when stuck, while at the same time not oversimplifying things by making only feasible combinations possible.
After encountering some trouble with publisher bankruptcies, the development of localised versions for both The Book of Unwritten Tales and The Critter Chronicles seemed to have come to a halt. Behind the scenes, however, KING Art was using the extra time to polish the game, not only fixing all the bugs but also implementing the things on the 'nice to have' list that usually get left out due to time constraints. The effort has paid off, as the game looks gorgeous, with an impressive mixture of prerendered backgrounds and real-time animated characters, with very nice lighting and shadows. When you see Nate walk through the cabin of his airship, his shadow moves across a tapestry and some furniture in a breathtaking way. There are many other details as well, like falling dust particles and realistically moving banners bringing the game world to life. According to the developers, the game has two to four times as many animations as The Book of Unwritten Tales, and four times as many sound effects.
Where the first game took inspiration largely from fantasy works like The Lord of the Rings and World of WarCraft, this time it's Star Wars, Harry Potter and even Portal that get parodied and paid homage to at the same time. Nate and the Critter’s similarity to Han Solo and Chewbacca is the most obvious example but many other far more subtle references are also available for the player to discover. It is estimated the game will last ten to twelve hours, and personally I can't wait to get my hands on The Critter Chronicles, with its deliciously wacky characters and detailed backgrounds with plenty to do in the land of adorable purple creatures… AFTER The Book of Unwritten Tales, of course, which is finally nearing its long-overdue English language release.
Platform(s): Mac, PC, LinuxThe long-awaited prequel to KING Art's popular fantasy adventure.