Also on: PC
Publisher: Crunching Koalas
Developer: Bonte Avond
Once Upon A Jester is by far the greatest game of its genre I?ve ever played.
Of course, it?s a very specific microgenre, so it?s not like there?s a tonne of competition: it?s a game about actors putting on plays based on feedback they receive from audience members. What?s more, I?ve only played one other game in this very niche microgenre ? the thoroughly mediocre Rainsdowne Players ? so it?s not like Once Upon A Jester had a tonne of competition for the title.
However, even if I were to expand the range of games I?m comparing it to, I think Once Upon A Jester would still come out looking pretty favourably, since I love everything about it.
For starters, it?s pretty original (even if there?s at least one other game out there that has a similar mechanic). The game is built around two thieves, Jester and Sok, trying to gain access to the King?s castle by winning a drama competition that requires them to travel from town to town, winning bouquets from adoring crowds. They win the bouquets by talking to townsfolk and overhearing conversations about what people are in the mood for that particular night. That means if you notice people are in a lovey-dovey kind of mood, your play should focus on romance, while if they want something more philosophical, you should focus on the drama.
What makes Once Upon A Jester really enjoyable, however, is how funny it all plays out. The story plays up its absurdities without ever becoming too absurd, whether it?s by giving Jester and Sok a rival theatrical duo consisting of a man and his goat, or introducing a character with all kinds of pomp and circumstance and then promptly killing him off, or having a group of squabbling ice cream sellers who don?t fully understand how business works.
The dialogue is also top notch ? albeit, again, in a humorous sort of way. You have funny songs (my favourite line: ?I thought of the times / you tried to steal all my beans?), you have dialogue prompts with nothing but weird choices, and you have weird tangents that don?t feel like non-sequiturs because, in a loopy way, they still play into the story. All of it is elevated by voice acting (and singing) that?s clearly done by amateurs, but that never sound amateurish. It?s filled with heart and a sense of humour, and it fits the vibe of the game perfectly.
And it?s a vibe I greatly enjoy, if you couldn?t already tell. Once Upon A Jester isn?t like too many other games out there, but if you?re willing to give it a chance, you?ll find that it does what it sets out to do incredibly well.
Crunching Koalas provided us with a Once Upon A Jester Switch code for review purposes.