Tiny Tales: Heart of the Forest (Collector's Edition)
Year Published: 2017
Publisher: Artifex Mundi
Developer: Brave Giant Studio
Artifex Mundi is one of the top publishers of quality hidden object games. The curious thing about them is that their developers change, yet we keep retreading the same ground. You may recall in my earlier review of Eventide: Slavic Fable (released the same year as Tiny Tales), I discussed how it was a pretty game and not a particularly bad HOG, but it mostly rehashed ideas and puzzles from two earlier Artifex Mundi games, Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride and Enigmatis 2: The Mists of Ravenwood. Here we are in the same situation again with Tiny Tales: Heart of the Forest - another pretty game that takes place in a magical forest with talking animals that somehow feels even easier and shorter yet.
Either a really big rat or a really small girl.
The world of Tiny Tales is a bit strange because it mixes human characters with anthropomorphic animals. The humans are tiny, like the Lilliputians from Gulliver's Travels, so they ride around on birds and bunny rabbits. The Kingdom of Brie where they live is a place where objects from the regular human-sized world, such as pencils, bottles, and matches, make up parts of their architecture. But they also have tiny-sized versions of these things for their own normal use. It is a world in which humans, mice, and bunnies are good, rats and cats are evil, and beavers are good, just easily fooled, I guess. So, this is not going to be the best game for domestic rat or cat lovers, but even ignoring my own personal biases, I found some of the character art rather unappealing.
You're at a tournament where these weird things are the entire audience.
Take, for example, this creepy anorexic-looking mouse princess and her father. To me, this art isn't cute and cuddly, it's just weird. Then there's the cat, who sports a villain's mustache and eyebrows, and looks like he's just missing a monocle. I'm sure someone thought it was funny, but again, it just looks weird. Especially since cats can have their own natural "mustaches", but I suppose no one would've wanted a "Kitler" in this game.
The character we play as, Max, looks less like someone who comes from a secret world of enchanted forests and more like he was modeled after one of the game's devs who's sporting a man bun. His design, as well as his mother's and his female rival, Ellie's design, doesn't quite match up with the far more cartoon-like forest animals.
Strangely, I have seen YouTube videos with pictures of mouse artwork that doesn't actually appear in the game. Where did they get this stuff?? It's not in the concept art, either. The girl mouse seems to be in the place of Ellie, making me think maybe everyone at one point in development were mice, but someone thought human players would only sympathize with human characters, so they were changed, which could explain the art style inconsistency.
These "cat attack" scenes would make more sense if everyone was a mouse instead of humans.
So, basically, we have mismatched characters going on a quest to stop the rats from being, well...rats. The story has very little depth, and the ending is three seconds long, if that. There is a bonus chapter, but it's more of the same and lacks something without Ellie's presence.
The puzzles Max solves along the way are mostly rehashes from earlier games, and if Brave Giant truly is a new dev who doesn't share any staff with The House of Fables or Artifex Mundi's own team, then they are at least very familiar with their other games because the similarities here are too strong to be coincidence. The only somewhat unusual element is the spellbook that Max uses to learn magic by finding and etching runes into it. Some of the spells are only used once, and the others are used to battle the rats in fights that can't be lost.
I wish I could live in this cat's home.
Tiny Tales does have a good selection of hidden object scenes, alternating between lists, silhouettes, and ones where you find all instances of a certain item. There is even an optional card game you can play if you don't like HO's, though I find the idea of someone who dislikes hidden objects playing any game in this genre perplexing.
Probably the best part of Tiny Tales is its background art. If you find the idea of small people living in a big world interesting, then you might appreciate the creativity of the buildings and other structures that are often half-built from objects possibly left in the forest by normal-sized humans. I honestly feel the game does this theme better than The Tiny Bang Story. My personal favorite was the cat's home. Despite being a villain, his abode is so lovingly furnished with cat-related objects that I could tell the artists were likely cat lovers.
Artwork so beautiful, someone made it into a tapestry.
If Tiny Tales was the first HOG you ever played, I could understand being impressed with it, but veteran players of Artifex Mundi's games are going to feel like they played it before. Its brevity and focus on talking cartoon animals suggest it's aimed more at kids than adult players. (I said these same things about Eventide because it is the same situation.) If only its character art had more closely resembled that of the Steam marquee image, and it had fully committed to the idea of a world of tiny creatures by not having out-of-place humans, then it would at least have that novelty. But as it is, I can't give it a strong recommendation one way or another.