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The promotional banner image for a twisted tale, showing main character vio stepping out of a purple portal with a puzzle-cube at her feet. Text above her head reads "wow, it's a title font. Someone really make up their mind. "

A Twisted Tale: As Charming as it is Promising [Chapter 1 Review]

The lead developer of A Twisted Tale is out to prove that her hyper-charming demo wasn't a bluff – a true adoration for the craft of point-and-click adventures is a shining veneer on a rock-solid entry into the genre's modern lineup.

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This title remains in ongoing development; this review reflects the game as it was at the time of its initial public release in March 2024.

A Promising Prologue

When I first got hold of the demo for A Twisted Tale over two years ago, I could only leave hungry for more. Even within the space of a single room, it showed the kind of adoration for a genre that's downright infectious – and enough people agreed that one little item shop got crowdfunded into a full-on, seven-part release.

So forgive me if I'm predisposed to be overly-optimistic about its public debut.

(And, in the interest of full disclosure, we do have a lengthy pull-quote on the game's Kickstarter page. It's hard not to be a little biased, even subconsciously.)

But while pixel-art role-playing games and metroidvanias are enjoying an independently-driven rennaissance, the 1990s wave of adventure games has only seen a few flattering imitators of late. Can developer Voodoo Bembel help grease the wheel on that chicken-pulley?

Clever Craftsmanship

At the absolute minimum, A Twisted Tale wants you to believe in its capacity to win people back into the space as much as it does, with not a drip of irony in its whole script. Sure, there's some tongue-in-cheek moments, but overall it remains bought into its premise and raring to go poking around its own world as you could hope for. Any uncertainty is purely narrative; the game itself is very certain that you'll have a grand old time rifling through every screen for goodies, leading to a charming sense of self-assuredness that added an upbeat color to my time with it.

To that end, the game is chockablock full of items and especially achievements; 36 of each across a relatively short game, to the point that each could feel overwhelming. But until you're nearing the end and trying to balance armfuls of dyes and sprockets, neither really does. Instead, it's a feedback loop of encouragement, prodding the player to keep sticking their nose into portraits on the walls and to read and re-read signage in hopes of discovering some new quippy observation from its talkative (and rarely too-chatty) protagonist.

In fact, the game's credits roll features a parade of behind-the-scenes images of the game's art from throughout the design process, only adding to the sense that A Twisted Tale hopes to find an audience as in love with its hand-crafted cozy spaces as it is.

  • A photo of a development sketchbook for a twisted tale, where the artist-developer has drafted an item shop stuffed to the gills with items and references.
  • A photo of development sketches for the shopkeep in a twisted tale, showing delightfully-emoted expressions.
  • A photo of the artist-developer of a twisted tale drawing very many active poses for the main character, vio

That little world its's created here is a delight, on balance. I praised the game's sole NPC before – the smarmy, tightly-wound shopkeep from the demo who returns in full force here. But the chummy cast here is just as full of lovable oddballs, from the amusingly needlephobic tattoo artist to the well-matched duo of construction workers. And in true adventure fashion, each plays a carefully-considered role in enabling key progression points in Vio's adventure.

Speaking of:

Playful Puzzles

In short, actually interacting with the world feels every bit like the LucasArts days of yore. The whole thing is strictly controlled with a mouse and a button to bring up the pause menu, with elements of the game world feeling natrually hidden in plain sight so as to pique the curious adventurer's desire to click on anything that the interface grants a tell-tale item label when you mouse over it.

And there's a gentleness to the entire thing that pushes players toward good-natured and whimsical solutions for an equally whimsical setting. Leading lady Vio herself even has the air of a very polite thief with boundaries, pushing plaers to help solve local problems before shaking the resident's houses down for baubles – or to at least ask with a gentle “please” before swiping so much as a ballpoint pen.

But this can fall apart in certain places, such as some trouble I had procuring a paintbrush. Perhaps I took Vio's overall politeness too well-to-heart in getting stuck here. But it took a bit of a nudge to thing to take scissors directly to an NPC's head for the brush-hair, or to keep pestering a wannabe-virtuoso well after the first time he told me to go away in order to get the scissors in the first place.

Compounding the issue was the need for this brush to begin with. While communitacted clearly in the moment, this presented itself as the second in a set of requirements that initially appeared to be just one. Watching Vio become increasingly exasperated each time an NPC would unveil some new goalpost on an existing quest was a good bit of fun, to be sure. But it added that same layer of frustration for me as a player, epsecially knowing that the titles A Twisted Tale pays tribute to have communicated similar objectives much more smoothly and comprehensively.

Ultimately, this outlines the misses that are rarer than its successes in the game's path from start to finish, be they more noticable or not. While there's some bouncing to be done back and forth between ongoing sets of puzzles and a certain order to the way things unlock each other, almost the entire rest of the game is self-answering. Hints are hidden everywhere from seemingly-passive dialogue by other NPCs to flavorful newspaper clippings, resulting in only a pair of scenarios where I genuinely had to sit and rub every item in my (surprisingly full) inventory against each other in hopes of finding a puzzle-relevant match.

And that's a shame, because by the numbers, A Twisted Tale is quite good at giving you everything you need to solve a given scenario. It's just that the world is so dense with rocks to turn over that it seems all-too-easy to miss one that I'm sure would present itself if I clicked on the right doodad.

Some Slight Snags

But developing a game with as much detail as A Twisted Tale requires is a real uphill battle, and while most of the game is fairly polished, the game.

Some of this is up to taste, like the game's sense of animation. Protagonist Vio's movement can feel a bit stiff – both in the sense that she's visibly a set of puppeteered (though lovingly-rendered) body parts, and in how she can get caught by the transitions in some particularly wide, scrolling screens. And her head shape seems to shift slightly, at that.

Others seem to be a few misses in the developer's growing expertise, such as the fact that voice acting can vary quite noticably in its volume. Nearly all the NPCs seem tuned to be louder than Vio at a brush, but the degree to which each stands out seems to change character-by-character. It sounds minor on paper, but the nature of the problem makes this the kind of thing that I hope to see improved chapter by chapter as the game is bound to gain polish.

And I can already see that willingness to learn and grow come out through the game's little interstitial cutscenes. While the lion's share are drawn in a delightfully cartoony, flexible style that bring to mind Tex Avery shenanigans, the very opening features very specific close-ups of the protagonist that are far more detailed and feel almost experimental. And learning exercises are hardly a poor thing in a game like this that sells itself on being driven by a few core contributors. But for those wandering in without that context, it could come across as a bit of a bumpy experience in spots.

Awaiting Additional Adventures

So, all that said, is this the start of an indie rennsaisance of true-blue point-and-click adventures?

It's hard to tell as of yet – both because that relies on other developers' reactions, and because A Twisted Tale is far from finished. Voodoo Bembel has done us all the good grace of keeping this chapter of the game well and truly contained, ending in a very satisfying place until the the next leg of the journey shakes out. But it's still notably just the beginning for now, with it personally taking me about five hours of playtime to reach the end credits. It's not a length that may work for everyone given the price point, but if every subsequent chapter really is the same size as the first, that's a very hefty 35 hours of adventuring all-told.

All that is is to say, even with this version of A Twisted Tale out and in people's hands, I'm sitting here and waiting to see if they can keep this pace up. It's definitely a passion project, and that shows in every screen, for good and for ill. It's doing its darnedest to grow into some pretty big shoes; here's hoping it finds the right footing.

Geek to Geek Rating: 4/5

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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