The Book of Living Magic
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Raven Locks Smith. If you made fun of her name, she would hit you with a shovel. She lived in the city of Dull, and although she loved her motivational-speaker parents, she wished for something more. One night, as she considered her boredom, a dream came to her and told her of a life changing tome that could be found near the Mountains of Oddness. Soon she walked there, and found it to be a most interesting place. But just because the new land was interesting, it didn't mean that it was safe: there's rumors of a Terrible Monsterbeast of Unvanquishable Doom and, even worse, of truly nightmarish experiments carried out by Evil Doctor McSelfish. And so, in this new point-and-click adventure game by Jonas and Verena Kyratzes, set in the same universe as their earlier The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge, you help Raven search through the quite unusual Land of Dreams in search of The Book of Living Magic.
The Book of Living Magic is played entirely with the mouse, like an ol' fashioned Hypercard game. Click objects in the game window to bring up their description, or to start a conversation with another character. Conversations are carried out by clicking on the appropriate topic. Navigation around the Land of Dreams is handled by clicking on the arrows at the bottom of the screen. To the lower-right is a clickable inventory and a list of "notes" that will remind you of your current goals. Your goal is to make it to the Temple of Gloop and read the titular book, but there's more than enough other things to enjoy along the way...
Analysis: While the trend towards gender-neutrality in online games is probably a positive one, the comparative lack of main roles for female characters is still lamentable. We're still at the point where a young girl as protagonist is notable in and of itself, especially when combined with the excellent writing that The Book of Living Magic certainly possesses. Obviously, any story about a girl encountering fantastic creatures in a surreal landscape can't help but owe a debt to Lewis Carrol. However, Book of Living Magic reminds me more specifically of Terry Prachett's Tiffany Aching series or, to jump two levels in obscurity, Epic Megagames' Dare to Dream: it has that deft balance of being a coming-of-age story, while at the same time subtly parodying the tropes of the genre with a host of wordplay and references-that-aren't-distracting-if-you-don't-understand-them-but-are-hilarious-if-you-do. If the prose is a little precious at times, it is still an absolute joy to read, and the authors' wit is displayed in even the most minor of object descriptions. You'll be wanting to click everything you can see by the end. Throw in a light touch of the macabre, and you have a modern fairy tale just waiting to be enjoyed.
The presentation of The Book of Living Magic more than lives up to its writing. The hand-drawn marker-y graphics are static and lack polish, but that just makes me like them more. They fit perfectly into the storybook world the authors have created. It is also a world filled with a wonderfully designed supporting cast, whose dialogue sparkles. The puzzles in the game aren't particularly challenging, being mainly of the "bring the thing to the character that specifically asked for it" variety, but they have the appropriate sense of absurd logic and serve the purpose of drawing you deeper into the adventure
There are a few drawbacks worth mentioning. First of all, as much as I enjoyed the protagonist, I wish she had been fleshed out a tad more: I wish her half of the conversation with other characters was written out as dialogue, rather than as a list of topics. What's more, I wish that there had been an indication as to what topics had already been chosen and which were new. Finally, I found the music, while passably adventurous, to be a bit blaring and repetitive. A mute button would have been a good addition to the Land of Dreams, methinks.
If you enjoyed this game, be sure to play The Fabulous Screech, a game that takes you back to the magical world of Oddness Standing.
Despite its relative short length, The Book of Living Magic has a distinct air of gravitas to it. To get the most out of it, you'll need to settle to play without distraction. If you do, you shall be amply rewarded with a wonderful story and a wonderful journey. It is a game that combines the conventional comfort of a classic fable with the unconventionality of an imaginary world crafted lovingly by its authors. Highly recommended to all lovers of classic adventure games or fantasy in general.