Game: Once Upon a Jester
Genre: Adventure, Indie
System: Nintendo Switch (Also on Windows (Steam & GOG))
Developer | Publisher: Bonte Avond | Crunching Koalas
Age Rating: US 10+ | EU 3+
Price: US $14.99 | UK £12.99 | EU € 14,99
Release Date: November 9th, 2022
Review code used, with many thanks to Crunching Koalas.
Released during the Nintendo Indie World Showcase, Once Upon a Jester is the third game by Dutch indie developer Bonte Avond. The four musicians who make up the studio, enjoy spontaneity which brings bizarreness and humour to both their music and games.
Will Once Upon a Jester bring me tears of laughter or will I end up crying into my cup of tea?
A Musical Adventure
Our protagonists, Jester and Sok, are having an argument over a cashmere scarf, which Sok has just stolen. Playing as Jester, you launch straight into the action by battling with Sok. However, something happens on the Dorp Town stage, which distracts you both.
Princess Kirstina is announcing her festival, ‘The Royal Theatrical Spectacle’, and will invite the best theatrical group to perform there. To decide which theatre act is the best, there will be a contest. The group which gains 15 flower bouquets in three different towns, will have the opportunity to go to the palace.
Jester and Sok devise a cunning plan. They will create their own theatrical group, win the contest, go to the palace and then steal the royal diamond. Surely this foolhardy idea to get fame and riches can’t possibly work, or can it?
And so starts your musical theatre adventure.
Get the Vibe
The first thing you need to do is understand your audience. What kind of play would they like to see?
By wandering around the town, you can listen in on the residents’ conversations. Sometimes they will talk about the genre they prefer.
Other times they will talk about genres they detest. Some of the icons aren’t overly clear but wait long enough and something recognisable will appear.
Another option is to talk to a local salesman, Hak Patat. He will sell items which the audience will either love or hate and early on in the game he explains this.
Finally, look for clues around the town, you might spot some posters which will help.
Promote Your Play
Once you’ve identified the genre, you can create your promotional poster. This is a really fun and creative activity.
First, you select your play’s title. Initially, you can only perform ‘A Roaring Growl’, but you have a couple of other ideas for storylines as you progress through the game. There are various backgrounds to choose from and then you decorate the poster with stickers.
For your first play, you only have one sheet of stickers to use. You gain more stickers as you travel around, talk to characters and by selecting different events within your play.
Once you have created your masterpiece, you’re ready to perform.
All the World’s a Stage
Storyline decisions and mini-games make up the play. Although, it’s not always possible to select the genre which the audience will love, try to avoid the one they hate. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the game, it’s really clever and so much fun to see how Jester and Sok will act out your chosen path.
Most of the mini-games involve pressing the button within the highlighted section of the wheel. Some even have the whole wheel highlighted, so they are much easier to complete. There are a couple of slightly different mini-games, like following the pattern and one where you chase Sok around the stage and press the button to capture him.
As the curtains close on the final act, the crowd throw flowers to express their appreciation. The more times you selected their favourite genre or won in the mini-games, then the more bouquets you received. Generally, I received three or four bouquets, so needed to perform 4 plays to move to the next town.
It’s More Than Just a Play
Although you play as Jester throughout the game, there are a couple of cut scenes to expand on the game’s story. Here you discover that Princess Kirstina and Merl have their own motives for organising the Royal Theatrical Spectacle.
What’s more, the journey gives Jester and Sok time to reflect and discover the beauty of theatre. If they get to perform at the palace, will they still want to steal the diamond? I’ve leave that for you to find out.
Tears of Laughter and Catchy Songs
There were some very funny moments in the game, but I didn’t get tears of laughter. Occasionally, I felt some of the options or reactions were out of keeping, and there were just a couple of times, in my opinion, the humour (and wording) was not totally appropriate for young players. However, there were definitely lots of classic jokes and many sage words.
The developers themselves do most of the narration and it is clear that they had a lot of fun whilst making the game. At various points throughout your journey, the characters burst into song (again written and performed by Bonte Avond). The music is catchy and one of the highlights of the game. I found myself humming the tunes, long after I’d finished playing.
There are clear on-screen instructions explaining how to play the mini-games, create your posters and when to interact. Sometimes it was a little difficult to see the white exclamation mark, but the interact message at the top of the screen prompted me to slow down and check who I could speak to.
The game takes around 2 to 4 hours to complete, depending on how quickly you collect the bouquets and how much of the narration you skip through. There are 3 difficulty levels to choose from: chill; normal; and nightmare.
The options menu has a ‘reset stickers’, and I had interpreted that this meant the collected stickers remained associated with the player, until ‘reset’. I was hoping to replay the game and find the stickers I’d missed on the first play-through.
However, the game’s last autosave is at the palace gates, and after completing that area, it cuts to the credits. Once the exceptionally slow scrolling credits finish (which cut off the last row of special thanks), you’re back to the start menu with ‘continue’ going to the palace gates.
The new game option resets everything, so disappointingly, there isn’t an option to replay from the start with your current set of stickers. How many times you would want to replay the game though? You’ve heard the jokes and know the plot. However, creating your own play is worth at least one restart, but whether you continue to the end again, is a different matter.
Once Upon a Jester is a great little game. It is well constructed, packed with jokes, and words of wisdom and has a feel-good vibe. The music is a highlight, with great beats and catchy tunes.
I wish there was more replayability, as creating your own mini-play is excellent, but the story and jokes get a bit repetitive after the first couple of run-throughs.
Final Verdict: I Like it.