Adventure Game Hotspot


A Twisted Tale hands-on

A Twisted Tale hands-on
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The young woman picks up a plate, a cup and saucer, and wipes down the table with the dishrag. As she prepares to leave, she notices a multi-coloured cube and, curious as to why she hasn’t seen it before, picks it up, slowly turning it over in her hand. Suddenly, a swirling purple portal opens and the young woman is sucked into it, landing in a rather strange-looking forest…

“Where the hell am I?” is the aptly named title of Chapter 1 of A Twisted Tale, by solo developer Eva-Ramona Rohleder (Voodoo Bembel). It’s an episodic game that will eventually consist of seven parts, but for now only the first installment has been released, taking about four hours to complete, with the subsequent six to be made available as DLC in the (hopefully) near future. 

This is the story of Vio, the young Parisian café owner who finds herself transported to another world, or possibly another dimension. Nothing is made explicitly clear in this first chapter, although it will soon become apparent that this world has much in common with our own, and possibly even intersected with it at some point.

This introductory installment is charming and whimsical, capturing the imagination from the get-go by dropping our protagonist into this intriguing place she knows just as little about as the player does. It’s beautifully hand-painted, with all of the expected modern point-and-click sensibilities for world-building and interaction, and yet there is also a nostalgic vibe that will appeal to those of us who first adventured in a less sophisticated time.

The plot of the episode is quickly revealed, as the Rubik’s Cube that started your journey is found by an antique shop dealer and is now for sale in his shop. Clearly you’re going to want it back, and the whole chapter revolves around regaining your lost puzzle. It’s not a deep premise by any means, but it is only the opening chapter.

While it isn’t fair to make any conclusive statements at this stage, it should be pointed out that I haven’t yet found myself feeling any emotional investment in Vio or her situation so far, because there is practically no backstory or background information about her. Hopefully much more of her story is revealed as subsequent episodes are released. 

The game is played almost entirely (with the exception of the forest where you arrive) within the town of Underham. (Be grateful you didn’t arrive in Overham, according to the grumpy fisherman.) Underham is built on floating islands, each island connected by a rope bridge, although there are cracks starting to appear that could be cause for later concern. It’s a medieval sort of world with a whimsical feel. I say ‘sort of’ because the structure of the town is castle-y and ye ol’ pub-like in feel, yet there are also many anachronistic items that make it seem more modern. 

While there are not a great many scenes – half a dozen town screens and about the same again inside shops and houses, plus a handful of forest and establishing shots – each is exceedingly well drawn using a vibrant colour scheme and is full to the brim with detail. The dark greens and browns of the initial forest give way to a bright sunny day, the island town and connecting bridges visible in the distance. Within Underham, the antique shop features the expected wood panels and candelabra lighting, a wizard’s hat and medieval armour adding to the swords and sorcery vibe. Yet it also has a video game console (complete with CRT TV), a 70s-looking hanging lamp, and neon lights pointing to the cube that got you into this mess, suggesting that Vio may not be the first out-of-time visitor to this place.

By far the best background artwork in this chapter is that of the introduction, which feels almost Disneyesque in its beautiful hand-animated style. A leaf, blown by the wind, floats across a country manor-style café with red clouds in the background letting us know the day is drawing to a close. Other establishing shots of Paris (the Eiffel Tower is displayed in one of these shots, identifying the city) show that same reddened evening sky and a stereotypical bohemian neighbourhood where this café is located. 

There are a number of cutscenes in A Twisted Tale, but apart from the introduction, these are let down by the animation. Particularly in close-ups of characters during important story beats, the limited number of frames becomes glaringly apparent, causing the animation to look a lot less fluid than it could have. The lack of frames is also noticeable when the clouds part to reveal the town; a few more would have greatly increased immersion in this pivotal early scene. The same weakness applies to in-game animations, reducing their smoothness. Vio doesn’t appear to have a walking cycle when she walks away from the camera, relying instead on her left and right walk cycles. 

There are a few characters you interact with on your journey. Ned Harvey, the biker-tattooist, is the most interesting, his aversion to needles a hilarious quirk. The tattooist, aptly nicknamed ‘Drawn by Darkness,’ is himself anachronistic, but this just adds to the sense of whimsy and offbeat 90s LucasArts vibe that the developer is looking for. When you first visit Ned, he is inking an elderly grandmother-looking lady, Gloria ‘The Beldame” Black, whom you will encounter later in your travels and who seems to be under the amusing impression that you are hitting on her.

A Twisted Tale

A Twisted Tale
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy
Presentation: 2D or 2.5D
Theme: Pirates
Perspective: Third-Person
Graphic Style: Stylized
Gameplay: Puzzle, Quest
Control: Point-and-click
Difficulty: Low

Another of the more interesting characters is the grumpy fisherman. Although we don’t learn his real name, we do know that he pines for his love, Betty. He sits on one of the pathways in the floating town fishing for birds, although he is rather unsuccessful at his endeavours. During conversation you’ll get to select the questions or comments you want to explore, so it’s a shame that the characters tend to feel like they are in place simply to hinder your progress, rather than being a part of a lived-in world. 

Each character is fully voiced, and all are nicely cast, the Grumpy Fisherman being a standout. A quibble, though it doesn’t hinder immersion at all, is that Vio is supposedly French yet doesn’t have even a hint of a French accent. A more serious issue is in the editing of the voices. While they are all performed well by their actors, the volume fluctuates between characters, which certainly detracts from the experience.

Fortunately no such issue applies to the excellent musical score, which ranges from spooky minor-key piano in the eerie forest, to orchestral brass and harpsichord in town, and a great 70s rock theme for the biker tattooist. There are also some nice audio details like the different footfall sound effects used for Vio that change depending on the surface she is walking on – softer on natural ground, and more clickety-clack on stone paths.

It would be fair to say that A Twisted Tale leans into being an homage to the beloved adventures of years past, not shying away from words like “retro” in the game’s advertising. It’s even written in the opening menu that you are playing “A Twisted Tale: A Point & Click Adventure (with a sprinkle of retro)” and takes it further throughout the game with clever references to many classic adventures. Some tentacles growing in the forest bring to mind Day of the Tentacle, and references to rubber chickens and grog do the same for the Monkey Island games. 

However, nostalgia will only get you so far, and for all the clear references to the past, this game stays firmly in the present with its approach to gameplay and design. The intuitive mouse controls take into account modern adventure game sensibilities, as simply moving the smart cursor over any hotspots or people within this strange world changes it to the appropriate action. 

Then it’s as easy as a single click to interact with or look at the various objects, while walking is similarly simple, again a single left click to move to the location selected. Moving between areas is also intuitive, the cursor turning to an arrow at screen edges, pointing in the direction you can travel. Accessing your inventory is achieved by right clicking, bringing up all of the various knickknacks you’ve collected throughout your travels.

One of your main tasks will be gathering the many items you’ll need and either giving them to people or combining them with different objects to progress. For example, you’ll need to find a way to distract two workmen who are repairing the cracks in the islands to retrieve something from a work area behind them. Often you have to obtain one item so you can get the second item needed to unlock your primary goal, and there is satisfaction when you manage to start the chain reaction that solves the broader puzzle. 

For all the joy in solving some of the puzzles, however, others can lead to frustration. Even without an in-game way to track your puzzles, or a hotspot highlighter to indicate anything you might have overlooked, it is always pretty clear what you are trying to achieve. But sometimes the solution to a puzzle is to keep clicking on the same thing, getting a different response each time until you get the final one you’re looking for. Or it may require an item that doesn’t appear to make sense at first look. Although it thankfully doesn’t stray into moon logic territory, a lack of adequate clues at times is one aspect of the retro adventure that new games can do without.

There’s room for improvement, as is often the case with episodic debuts, but overall my first impressions of A Twisted Tale are good ones. The developer’s intention is to invoke that nostalgic feeling that many of us had when we first booted up those old adventure game classics, but dressed up in a more modern, stylish presentation. In this regard it does an admirable job, largely avoiding the traps that made those games annoying in their design at times. The story and characters are still very thin at this early stage, but it’s already beautifully drawn and acted, set in a fascinating and whimsical world that should have any fan of classic adventures intrigued to see where Vio’s adventures take her next. 

1 Comment

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  1. Great summary of this first chapter! Glad you liked it as much as I did. Looking forward to seeing something of chapter two!


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