Ape Marina‘s point-and-click adventure game Tales brings storytelling to a whole new level, quite literally.
Alfred Walsh’s job is to take care of a library, but soon the evil entity Oblivion tries to erase all the stories, so it’s up to the new librarian and his mentor Merlin the Wizard to stop it and jump right into the books themselves.
Tell me a story or more
Stories have always played a big part for a culture’s identity and the evolution of society, as one isn’t only entertained by them by losing oneself in their worlds, but also because one learns something about oneself, morality, philosophy or the age they were written in. Tales does a great job of tackling the meta-fictional elements without becoming too scientific, as it deals with storytelling in a quite touching way. The real stars of the books are obviously the individual stories and their characters. So one will not only meet fairy-tale characters like Jack and the Beanstalk, but also mythical entities like Thor, the God of Thunder, or Gilgamesh, the historical king of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, among many others. Even if some stories aren’t as well-known in popular culture, one doesn’t require any knowledge to solve the puzzles or enjoy the plot. Still, being aware of all the references adds to the fun, as this is one of the few games that piques the player’s interest to catch up on even the oldest stories. It’s not all high literature, though, as there’s quite a bit of humor, and even if it’s not laugh-out-loud funny or the most original writing, it often raises a smile.
Caught in a good book or more
The individual book worlds Alfred explores are lovely crafted and have their unique atmosphere. However, it’s not only the visual backdrops, but the interesting characters themselves. They don’t simply rely on what one knows about the stories, but they’re also personalities one can easily relate to. So despite many different genres or timelines, the game never feels as if the developer just wanted to make a checklist of everything and everyone that has been told in oral storytelling or written about. Of course only small parts of these tales are touched, as the game would have become too long otherwise, but they’re well-told enough so that one remembers each world, which is essential to progress with the puzzles. The main storyline might not be the most epic and Alfred himself isn’t the deepest character, either, but as each book is connected somehow and Oblivion is always ready to devour more stories, the plot development always keeps things going, so that one always feels the pressure of losing time.
More puzzling puzzles
The puzzles themselves are quite good and varied, ranging from easy to tricky, but are never unfair, although a bit of pixel hunting is always involved and one shouldn’t expect the most original or memorable solutions. It’s also possible to ask Merlin for advice, although most of his hints can be a bit obscure at times. What makes the game different but also more difficult to play than other adventure games is that one can carry over items from one book to the other. Even if Alfred refuses to do this for each object, there are still enough to choose from. The main problem is the magic bag that can only hold one item at a time that can be carried over, a clear oversight of the developer, because one has to constantly travel back and forth between books to get every item across, and as this isn’t done by simply switching between worlds but exiting a book and going to each book on the library shelves to get into another, this can get very annoying, especially since one has to remember where each one is located.
Some of the puzzles can also be frustrating, as one has to type in special words on the keyboard. Additionally, there are a few logic puzzles that ramp up the difficulty quite a notch, which is too bad, because the inventory-based puzzles and choosing the right approach to talk to people by investigative methods works quite well. As there’s always something different to do in each world, one rarely feels as if doing multiple tasks just for the sake of puzzle solving. The playtime of around ten hours is also quite long without the story outstaying its welcome with superfluous segments.
Good looks and sounds from books
The game might not look the greatest with some low-res character models and washed-out backgrounds, but if one looks closer, there are enough details in both cases, as everything is well-drawn and fits the individual stories’ atmosphere with some very good artwork. The voice acting is also quite good, even if there are a few ups and downs with some characters. The music is particularly great with various themes that change with each new setting, but also add emotions to the darker or even sadder parts of the story.
More than just a good book game
Tales is a wonderful adventure game that treats the individual books it refers to and storytelling in general respectfully. Unlike so many other adventure games that simply rip off ideas and often make fun of historic or fairy-tale characters, it’s refreshing to see a game that balances the serious with humor without going too much into the meta-fictional region of literary analysis, actually inviting the player to read up on all the tales. Despite some gameplay issues like inventory management and a few stumbles in puzzle design, the game is a surprisingly entertaining and sometimes even thought-provoking adventure that deserves much more attention than its easy-to-overlook title might have gotten since its release.
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