It’s hard to find games with a unique hook anymore, but some manage to change up the puzzle-platformer genre like A Juggler’s Tale has. Held up by strings, Abby tries to escape her life as a caged circus performer and ventures into the open world. Despite a few interesting twists in the story, the interesting puzzles are let down by an underwhelming script and vocal performance that drags the whole game down.
Let’s start with a positive. The graphics in A Juggler’s Tale are absolutely wonderful. Every puppet is held up by strings, which makes a stunning, yet creepy atmosphere as the narrator guides the story forward. The way the strings look realistic in the backdrop of a Tim Burton-esque world is a cool effect. The trees are modeled like creepy arms coming to get you, and the moody lighting creates an amazing sense of despair. However, in its lighthearted moments, the watercolor-style clouds and sky brighten your day with some amazing scenery. The developer of the game kaleidoscube knows how to use the literary tool of pathetic fallacy within the environment to demonstrate how the mute Abby is feeling.
Being Strung Along
A Juggler’s Tale also cleverly plays around with the strings that hold Abby back. When she comes into contact with a platform that catches her strings, you must figure out a way to overcome it. A puzzle revolving around a windmill is particularly smart. As you approach the mill, your strings get tangled with one of the sails. It’s motionless, so you can’t get past it. In order to succeed, you must pump some water from the mill to gain the attention of a cow. With your strings, you can change the flow of the water and by doing so, the stream goes into a bucket for the cow to drink from. As the cow’s attached to the windmill, it moves. giving you access to the later parts of the level. Its simple but clever game design makes it a pretty fun puzzle platformer to check out.
Unfortunately, the story is where A Juggler’s Tale begins to fall apart. Shawn Lawton’s performance as the narrator leaves a little to be desired. He sounds like a wannabe Stephen Fry as he has trouble eliciting a good performance from the material. It sounds half-baked as Lawton either underdelivers or over-exaggerates the emotions of the narrator. And you’ll hear him a lot as he takes you through the story and the levels of the game. It’s an interesting idea, especially towards the end, but it all comes across as phoned-in and somewhat cheesy. He’s even annoying at the final boss fight as he repeats the same lines over and over and over again as you keep dying. If the narrator’s actor had more gravitas, A Juggler’s Tale could have done really well in this retrospect as the developer plays around with his role in the story brilliantly.
It also doesn’t help that the script is all over the place. Like Child of Light, the game is mostly written in rhymes, but oddly, the writing goes offbeat and sprinkles in words that don’t rhyme with each other. It comes across as odd and makes me wonder what the purpose of rhyming was in the first place. The script can be quite charming at times, albeit cheesy due to the narrator’s voice, but it does underwhelm in places as I didn’t care much for Abby and her journey. In a game with puppets, it ironically needed more soul behind it. It does have a satisfying ending and there’s an intriguing twist in the third act, however.
Some Strings Attached
Thankfully, the composer Jordan Toms does a great job at keeping A Juggler’s Tale‘s strange atmosphere alive. His work on Act 2: The Meadow perfectly encapsulates the game’s sense of adventure as Abby escapes from the clutches of the ringmaster. It has a bright melody with an emotional piano, charismatic acoustic guitar, and a punchy drumline. And then, later on in Act 2, the ambiance track that plays in the background exaggerates the turmoil of Abby as she enters the creepy forest. This music helps stir that feeling that perhaps the little girl Abby venturing alone into the dark wasn’t a great idea. Toms does a great job of establishing the fantasy theme as we witness the positive and negative flow of her adventure.
Overall, A Juggler’s Tale is a mixed bag. The main gameplay and puzzles that kaleidoscube offers are sublime, but similar to the puppets in the game, I felt hollow from the storytelling and performance from the narrator (who is a fundamental part of A Juggler’s Tale). If you’re in for a moody puzzle platformer, you should check this out.
A review code was provided by the publisher.