What is it?
"Fairy Tale", or "Fairy Tale About Father Frost, Ivan and Nastya" to give it its complete title, is another point and click adventure from Eastern Europe. The developers, Bohemia Interactive Studio, are a Czech outfit, based in Prague. The eponymous Tale is inspired by Russian folklore, and focuses on the story of a young girl, Nastienka (Nastya), and a hero, Ivan.
The game is described by the publisher, Cenega, as being suitable for 'Any child able to switch on a computer' with parental assistance, but 'ideal for children aged 6 years'. This seems to be reasonably accurate. The game is not difficult to operate, nor overly complex in it's puzzles, but I'd be very impressed by a child of 6 who can play the entire game.
Because this game is aimed at people so much younger than me, I'll once more be asking Purple Bear (my 10-year old daughter) for some comments, in an effort to overcome the old fogey effect. Her comments are in bold italic text.
Is there a plot?
Yes. The Fairy Tale is the stories of Nastienka and Ivan. Nastienka is a young girl who has a new stepmother and stepsister to use and abuse her in classic fairy story ways. Ivan is a young hero, leaving home in search of a bride, learning humility along the way.
The two story threads are nicely interleaved; we begin with Nastya before switching to Ivan. They eventually meet, before diverging again to continue their stories. The player must help Nastya to overcome her overbearing stepmother, weak father, and annoying stepsister, and help Ivan learn some degree of humility - he's a particularly obnoxious character to begin with. I don't want to give away any more of the plot because it is about the only element in the game that is surprising. I will say, though, that Father Frost doesn't appear until very late in the game - in retrospect, his inclusion in the title is rather surprising!
I found the game fairly easy. The story was interesting and different from other games I've played. The game was not scary at all, and I think the story turned out right in the end.
How do you play?
When you start the game, you're dropped straight into the beginning of the story; a grandmother is telling a bedtime story to her grandchildren - this element returns from time to time in the game as a break between the four acts. Even to load an existing game, you have to hit the Escape key to get to the menus. The menus are simple - New, save and load, options, credits and exit - what need is there for more? Options are limited to subtitles, colour depth, special effects and sound volumes.
As I've already said, we're dealing with a point-n-click adventure. It is played in a full screen playing area, from the third person perspective, with the mouse only. There is an extensive inventory of objects to use to solve the puzzles in the game. Inventory items are changed by activities; some puzzles require the combination of items. Puzzles vary from knitting socks to extracting bears from fallen tree stumps, from defeating robbers to escaping a fiery dragon. The majority of puzzles are inventory based, but not exclusively.
The inventory is shown on a pop-down, translucent bar across the top of the screen. Most of the time, the inventory doesn't get in the way, but there were times it popped down when I didn't want to see it.
It was fun to play two different people at different times in the game.
I like the bits where Squeaky the Bat was talking and the words were upside down. The names of the characters were very unusual. But my favourite parts were Baba Yaga's dancing, and the
Human Misery was my favourite character because she was so different from the other characters.
Unusually, in my experience, the manual for Fairy Tale is surprisingly informative! It is a slim affair - a mere 6 pages of information, plus credits and space for notes. However, once the author gets past the installation instructions and the detailed description of the user interface, there is a useful set of hints on adventure game playing strategy, for example, "Think 'game-like.' Improvise. You don't necessarily use all the items you find for their primary purpose. For example, a horseshoe can be used in various ways, such as throwing."
Now the game doesn't actually require you to throw a horseshoe, but if granny just gave an 8-year old child this game (it is suitable for 6 year olds, remember), and the parents have no adventure game experience, consider how useful strategy hints are going to be for all concerned! The same goes for the detailed description of the user interface.
Okay, I've covered some of the nicer features... now the downsides. The graphics and the voice acting.
I know we all say in those polls on the game factors, that the story is king, well that may well be the case, but why are we still dealing with animated games with characters that could have been drawn by a high-school student, rather than a professional artist - and if they weren't drawn by a professional artist, but by a programmer in his spare time, why didn't the developers hire a professional artist?
Now the worst factor: the voice acting. This was a real area of weakness. Most of the characters sounded like they'd been instructed to impart the opposite emotion into the lines than what was needed - or at best that any old reading of the lines would do! I only hope that the characters come over better in the original Czech. That's a do-over, guys - especially Nastya's stepmother.
There is also a key that Ivan has to retrieve early in his story, but there seemed to be bug around this as a couple of times through the game, we couldn't find the key, despite solving the relevant puzzle.
I think that the menus were quite simple to use. The key bug was the only really annoying bit.
The pictures were all quite flat, and even though they were quite colourful the game looked boring. If I could change anything, I'd change the graphics from 2D to 3D. .
I didn't need much help to play the game, except with the missing key problem and when I couldn't find the pub in the town.
Any other novelties?
The biggest novelty in this game is the use of Russian folklore as inspiration. How many times have we been to Atlantis, Egypt, a medieval land of fantasy, or Outer Space? Too many to count. But how often have we seen a game set in rural Eastern Europe? It doesn't sound an exciting prospect, but in the context of this story, it works well.
This game shows some promise. It has a novel (apart from the troublesome stepmother) story, given the current state of the art of adventure game writing. The interface is reasonably solid - though it did hang a few times. But, and this is a big but in my opinion, the game is severely let down by the voice acting. I feel it is especially important to get this right with games aimed at children because of the story telling aspect of the game.
The worst offence against gaming, however, was the dire execution of the voice acting. I know an evil stepmother is supposed to sound bad, but this one sounded like she'd had a stroke.
This is not really a keeper, for me. I would never replay it.
I'd say that some of most of the girls in my class would like the game, but not the boys. Even though I finished the game, I think it was a bit boring. I don't want to play it again.
What do you need to play it?
• Pentium(r) III 733 MHz or Athlon(tm) 733 MHz
• 32MB nVidia GeForce2 / ATI Radeon video card
• 256 MB RAM
• 400 MB Hard Drive
• CD-ROM or CD/DVD-ROM drive 8x
• DirectX certified sound card
• Windows 98/2000/XP with DirectX 8.1
• Pentium(r) IV 1.5 GHz or Athlon(tm) 1.5 GHz
• 64 MB nVidia GeForce 4 / ATI Radeon 9600 PRO video card
• 512 MB RAM
• Sound card with 3D sound support
• Windows XP
(We used Win XP, AMD XP 2400+, 512 MB RAM, and ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)