Tag Archives: Wintergatan

The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets Review – PlayStation VR

While VR certainly has not caught on as popularly as the gaming companies had hoped or expected, there is no denying that VR has made it possible for some of the most creative gaming concepts in years.  A perfect example would be The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets from Fast Travel Games.  Fast Travel are the folks behind 2018’s VR adventure title Apex Construct, but don’t think that Curious Tale has anything in common with their previous first-person bow-and-shield expedition, because this game is nothing like you have ever played before.  And given that, it is one of the most creative and enjoyable games I have played all year.

The concept is simple; after a long time away, you return to your grandfather’s house to help him solve a mystery that has caused his collection of pets to go missing.  Only these aren’t real pets per se, but more like a collection of small animated creatures that look well, curiously like Littlest Pet Shop dolls. And this collection of pets isn’t lost within rooms of your grandfather’s house per se, but rather in a series of miniature landscapes – dioramas if you will – that you and your grandfather, and your grandmother, and your sister, built many years ago.

Each of these miniature worlds is incredibly detailed with a specific theme, from a scale model of your grandfather’s own homestead to a slope-side ski resort in the mountains, and from a prehistoric volcano to an underwater aquarium, the level of care taken into designing these gorgeously whimsical levels elicits the very same feelings I felt when I first saw the like of Little Big Planet and Puppeteer.

Most of the gameplay involves grabbing and rotating the world in 3D-space, all the while poking away at the landscape to manipulate the various puzzles contained on the levels, to release the half-dozen “stolen” pets that are confined within.  Some of the puzzles are overly simplistic, with gamers simply poking sticks into caves or pushing buttons in a predefined sequence. But some of the puzzles are quite complex, forcing the gamer to get creative in properly setting off a string of inter-related events.  I don’t want to go into too much detail here for fear of giving away too much of this rather brief game, but I will say that other than a few questionable results (“Why did that work this time, but not the 30 times I tried that very same thing before?”) most of the overly challenging puzzles are fair, and very rewarding.

With the VR honeymoon over, the once impressive PSVR headset is starting to show its age with a noticeable amount of graininess and a slight cross-hatch pattern overlay – even still, The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets’ is stunning within the aging headset.  As mentioned, the worlds are incredibly detailed – with puffing steam trains, fire-spewing volcanoes, and trees with leaves so delicate that they gently float to the ground when shaken.  But the detail isn’t just in the worlds themselves, but also in the atmosphere around them.  For instance, in the underwater aquarium level I nearly jumped out of my seat the first time a small yellow guppy-like fish swam past my face, and the perfectly-perfect miniature snowflakes meandering around the winter mountain were absolutely hypnotizing. The whole visual package is amazing, and one so comforting that you can easily get lost in for hours if you let it.

The audio is equally as relaxing – with a soft-spoken grandfather reminding you about summers you and your sister spent visiting your grandparents.  Equally as mesmerizing is the music, from the Swedish “folktronica” band Wintergatan (the Milky Way).  The music is an hybrid of old-fashion air-driven instruments like harpsichords, calliopes, accordions, combined with modern day analog synthesizers.  The result is an enchantingly whimsical, with unique tracks for each level.

The VR control is the only place I had any real issue with The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets.  I had quite a bit of difficulty with camera tracking throughout the course of the game.  Several times, I would come back from a loading screen to find my view turned 90° from what it should be, and no amount of holding the settings button would reset my view correctly.  I tried adjusting the camera direction, camera distance, sitting, standing – nothing seemed to work.  I eventually had to cover the camera completely for about 10 seconds for it to reset completely.  Even so, I never really felt that I was in control of my distance from the world within the VR screen, and I was constantly having my cursor (which reminded me of a aged dandelion ready to be blown) float away into nothingness.  I did end up using the DualShock controller as using the sticks and buttons seemed a bit more intuitive and reliable than the PS Move controllers.

The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets is a quick play – all of the game’s five levels can be completed in well under two hours, and given that it’s a puzzle-based game there’s little or no replay value once those puzzles have been solved and all the hidden coins have been accounted for.  Still with an MSRP of $15, that works out to only $3 per level which is a steal considering the level of work that went into developing this experience.  And that’s exactly what The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets is – an experience.

The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets Review – PC VR

The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets has just released on VR and let me tell you, if you own a VR headset then you better be playing this game today. Delightful, charming, astounding, imaginative, entertaining, and mesmerizing are all words that come to mind, yet still don’t do justice when trying to describe this enchanting (there’s another one) VR experience. Videos and certainly screenshots can’t even begin to clearly showcase the grandeur of this title. It truly is something you MUST experience in VR to appreciate.

Did you just go buy it?   Is it downloading? OK…keep on reading and I’ll keep this short so you can start playing right away.

The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets is not as much a game as an interactive playset; five of them actually, where you will scour these imaginative worlds searching for a variety of adorable (and missing) pets as well as some hidden gold coins. It’s an almost-too simple premise that would certainly fall “flat” if it weren’t for the total 3D immersion VR brings to the equation. Of the hundreds of VR games I’ve played in the past three years my favorites have always been the ones where I get to interact with miniature environments. Moss comes to mind, and while vastly different in execution I would say that The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets is worthy of being mentioned alongside that groundbreaking title.

The setup is simple; as you find yourself playing as the grandson exploring their childhood bedroom while your grandfather narrates this engaging tale of past memories all leading to a sibling rivalry with your sister about “who grandfather loved most”. What starts off as a rather innocent tale of wonder and discovery turns surprisingly emotional in the final moments. In your room are five covered pictures that are revealed one by one, allowing you access to five incredibly charming and diverse worlds, each one better (and more challenging) than the last.

You start off at the family home, one of the easier levels meant to introduce you to the clever hide-and-seek mechanics of finding pets and coins. When experienced in the VR space a “world/level” is about 3-feet tall; an island floating in a matching atmospheric environment. The game can be played seated or standing, although you will eventually have to stand to interact with elements at the top of the level. You can grab and spin the island or simply use the analog stick on the Touch controller to rotate the landscape. The game also supports room-scale, so I suppose you could walk around the island if you wanted, but that seems unnecessary and potentially hazardous with cables twisting at your feet. I spent 98% of the game seated. A smaller island sits just outside your view to the right, showing your collection tallies for coins and pets as well as an alarm clock that returns you to your bedroom. Even your bedroom showcases your progress with cute animal stickers for each found pet and a jar that slowly fills with coins.

Almost everything in the worlds of The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets is interactive to some degree. Plants will rustle, trees will bend, people will stop and wave if you touch them and animals will react when you scratch their heads. Much of this engagement is superfluous to gameplay but goes a long way in conveying that feeling of immersion in these storybook environments. Many items interact with others like a key in a lock or waving a magic wand over a hat. One of the more imaginative puzzles was getting a hammer to break some ice to get a hairdryer to melt snow that changes the landscape entirely. This puzzle was a part of my favorite level in the game that also featured a train steaming around the tracks that you could stop with gates or redirect with a track switch. This totally brought back memories of my model railroading days.

Another favorite level was the tropical island, which of course included a pirate shipwreck and buried treasure. The great thing about this was the giant shower head rising from the island that, when turned on, would entirely submerge the island allowing you to explore from beneath the surface and interact with a submarine and other interesting elements. What was especially cool was that if you stood up your head would poke above the waves complete with atmospheric sound change. I won’t go into the other levels. I don’t want to spoil anything and your download should be finishing up about now.

I played The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets on both the Oculus Rift S and the HTC Vive with the expected outcome. The Vive doesn’t control as well and the image clarity is slightly sub-Rift S with the Oculus offering crisper visuals and better controls with the move comfortable Touch and its analog stick. There aren’t a lot of options in the settings menu but everything looked great as delivered. Since the game is rooted in fantasy storybook art it works perfectly in VR, and given the player’s limited movement there is no motion sickness at all. The game makes a big deal about the music created by Wintergatan. Never heard of them before this, but I will say I REALLY enjoyed the whimsical music that was playing out in the background while I was exploring these worlds.

The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets is only a 2-3 hour game and nothing is randomized so there’s little reason to replay when finished, but that won’t stop you from insisting that anyone who enters your home puts on the Oculus and tries it for themselves. Watching the joy on somebody’s face is almost as good as playing the game yourself, and it’s only $15. What else are you going to spend $15 on and get this much engaging entertainment?

VR was made for games like The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets. Sure, I would have liked it to go on for 2-3 times longer, but that in no way lessens the enjoyment I had or diminishes the smile on my face every time I think about it. The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets is currently available on Steam and also for Oculus Quest and Rift owners on their respective stores. Buy it now and thank me later.   Just kidding; that smile on your face is thanks enough.