The award-winning side-scrolling puzzle-platformer game from kaleidoscube finally arrives, and is it well worth the wait. A Juggler’s Tale is a moving story about a marionette called Abby who desperately seeks freedom. She gets her wish and breaks free, but it comes at a big price, and an adventure ensues. Not only is Abby pursued by her former captors, but she will have to overcome obstacles, as well as the strings that holds her back. Will Abby get the freedom she so badly wants?
STORY – THERE WAS ONCE A MARIONETTE CALLED ABBY
The story of A Juggler’s Tale is beautifully told like a fairytale, or maybe an old folk story, in 5 acts. It is told by Jack, the narrator, in clever rhyming couplets, who guides Abby throughout the game. Abby is a string puppet who performs in a circus alongside a bear, but life in show business is not glamorous. When not performing, Abby is kept in a cage, imprisoned by the ringmaster.
However, Abby gets her chance to escape and grabs it, fleeing the circus. She now runs free, exploring a world full of beauty – but it doesn’t last. A price is put on Abby’s head, as she is relentlessly pursued by a hunter called Tonda. She also discovers that she’s not quite free, as her strings obstruct her. To get her desired freedom, Abby must overcome her pursuers, as well as her strings.
Abby, the hero of the story, doesn’t speak, not does she have any facial expressions. However, you can’t help but fall in love with her character. You feel desperately sorry for her as she pursues her freedom. From the beginning, you’ll be on her side, eager to do whatever it takes to help her get what she desires most. You’ll doubtlessly cheer her on when she loses a chasing enemy or overcomes a tricky obstacle blocking her way. Your heart will thump for her when confronted by an enemy, or when she is caught. You just want to pick her up in your arms and keep her safe forever. She’s a very sweet and lovable character who deserves her freedom, and you’ll want to make sure that happens.
There are other characters to watch out for, too. The narrator who tells the story is the one pulling the strings, literally. There are times when he helps Abby out using the very strings that restrict her, lifting her out of harm’s way. He guides her throughout the story – his story – giving her hints while also warning her of any dangers. We never physically see the narrator, but he has a strong presence that never goes away, even when he’s not speaking. As the story goes on, you’ll discover that the narrator has a much bigger part in the story than you ever imagined.
When Abby runs away from the circus, she is pursued by Tonda, a hunter hired to find and capture Abby for a reward. Tonda is a big brute who is relentless and ruthless in his search. He’s not alone, joined by his band of men, who are just as brutish as him. If they even get a glimpse of Abby, they’ll pounce on her. They will not give up with their search for Abby, just like she won’t give up her battle for freedom. Like Abby, Tonda and his men don’t speak or show any facial expressions, but their menacing presence is powerful enough to make your heart pound with fear whenever they’re near.
A Juggler’s Tale doesn’t take long to complete from start to finish. You can expect to finish this game in a few hours; around 2 to 3, to be precise, which can be affected by how long you spend working out the puzzles and overcoming any obstacles. It might not seem long, but it’s enough to stick in your memory for a long time afterwards.
GAMEPLAY – CHALLENGING BUT CLEVER PUZZLE PLATFORMER
There are many puzzle platformer games, but A Juggler’s Tale puts a unique and innovative spin to the genre. As you expect in a platformer, you have to run and jump across ledges and platforms. With Abby as the protagonist, though, there’s a catch, a big one: Abby’s strings.
Her strings disappear upwards off the screen, and there’s no going around it. Abby’s strings will hold her back whenever she comes across an obstacle, whether it’s a hanging branch or an overhead platform. Abby can jump onto things, but not if they’re too high. Another catch is that A Juggler’s Tale is presented as a side-scroller, so you can only go left or right, or up or down. You cannot go away or towards the camera to get around an obstacle. In most cases, you have to figure out how to overcome the strings restraining her. You might have to find a box to push or pull, or find a lever that’ll raise or lower a platform.
As jumping across platforms in A Juggler’s Tale isn’t that straightforward, you are forced to think outside the box, resulting in some clever puzzle solving. A lot of the puzzles aren’t easy, but they’re not impossible to solve. The game doesn’t spoon-feed you, telling you exactly what you need to do to progress. The narrator drops subtle hints, but it’s mainly down to you to figure it out. Sometimes you’re presented with a situation that initially seems impossible to overcome. You need to look around the environment and see if you can find something that can help you, and remember what you can and can’t do as Abby.
Abby can interact with the world and the things in it. She can push and pull boxes so she can jump up to higher places. Another key feature is the ability to pick up small rocks or apples and throw them. These can be used to distract enemies, or knock over things that’ll help Abby progress. The throwing mechanic takes a little getting used to. You have to pick up the object, move the joystick to adjust the angle of the throw, and then press the button to throw. Sometimes, you might end up dropping the object by accident. Fortunately though, you’re given plenty of chances to practice throwing, as the throwable objects respawn.
Not everything Abby picks up can be thrown. Sometimes she’ll have to use objects that she finds on the ground to help her progress. For example, early on in Abby’s escape, you’ll need to find some wooden planks to jump across a river. Another early part features torches, which you need to use throughout the level to clear overhanging branches. The catch is that it is raining heavily, so the torches only stay lit for a short time, so you need to find a way to keep the torch burning or relight them. Luckily, if you end up losing the torch you’re using, you can grab a new one. While the game and its puzzles are challenging, it does save you from some frustrations.
One obstacle Abby faces throughout the game is Tonda and his band of men. They chase after Abby, sometimes in a literal chase sequence. The men are fast and can easily catch up to Abby if she’s too slow, so you have to be quick and nifty with jumping over obstacles. Sometimes though, Abby has to get past enemies who are searching for her. She can’t physically fight back with her fists or weapons. She has to be cunning and clever to overcome Tonda and his men.
To avoid getting spotted and caught by prowling men, Abby has to stay out of the search lights, hiding behind crates or walls until the men move away. Sometimes, Abby has to distract the men to get past, by throwing or pushing something. Triumphing over the enemies is a puzzle in itself. You have to think and look around, using any available resources or tools you can find. These particular puzzles are hardest to solve, since you also have to avoid being spotted and captured, and if you do, you have to start again. Fortunately, A Juggler’s Tale has very generous checkpoints, so if you fail, you only start again from the beginning of the puzzle or situation.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – BREATHTAKING, PLUS A WONDERFUL NARRATOR
A Juggler’s Tale has a beautiful story. For that, you need graphics and sound to go with it, and A Juggler’s Tale doesn’t fail on that.
The story is cleverly told and presented like a puppet theater. At the start and end of each act, the scene is presented with ink-drawn cutouts of trees on a puppet stage, complete with curtains. When you take control of Abby at the start of a new act and move her along, the scene transitions from stage and props to the real world. The graphics are gorgeous, with wonderful lighting and realistic objects and smooth animations. The world breathes life, with flowing streams and tall grass billowing and clusters of butterflies.
Even when the world becomes more dystopian, it is still stunning to look at. The strings attached to the characters are well animated, not looking at all glitchy or fake. The characters themselves have a more cartoonish style to them, but are still portrayed flawlessly.
The soundtrack is just as spellbinding as the rest of the game. There are moments when there is no music, but when there is, it perfectly sets the scene. When Abby is first free and running along paths and through fields, the music soars and fills your heart with joy. It’s incredible how a piece of music can make you feel as free as Abby. The music is also powerful in situations when Abby is in danger, such as when she is being chased or facing off against an enemy. When in such a situation, the music helps get the adrenaline going, so you’re pumped up and ready to face whatever the game throws at you.
A Juggler’s Tale isn’t devoid of voice overs. There’s only one character who speaks, and that’s the narrator. He plays a pivotal part in the game, and does a grand job of narrating the story, as well as assisting Abby, giving her hints as well as warnings. While acting a bit like a mentor, he isn’t afraid of being honest about a situation. The narrator’s presence in the story is not to be underestimated. He is the one who keeps Abby going, who watches over her, who makes sure everything is going as it should be.
This game was reviewed on PS4, with a key provided by Future Friends Games.