Have you ever wanted to like an experience, particularly one that would normally check all your boxes, but couldn’t bring yourself to do it? This is exactly how I felt while playing A Juggler’s Tale.
For those unfamiliar with the title, A Juggler’s Tale is an atmospheric puzzle platformer developed by kaleidoscube and published by Mixtvision. It officially releases for PC, GoG, PS4/PS5, XBOX, The Epic Store, and Nintendo Switch on September 29, 2021.
The Nintendo Switch version was played for this review.
Rhyming NOT Required
A Juggler’s Tale centers around Abby, an artiste at a circus who is initially held captive by her ringmaster but luckily manages to escape. What ensues after Abby runs away is an adventure filled with giant spiders, angry villagers, and a gang of dangerous bandits who want to capture her in exchange for gold.
Despite its various villains, the most interesting part of A Juggler’s Tale is actually the narrator. The bulk of the story-telling is left up to him, as all of the characters within the story are silent. Still, it fits very well with the game’s theater-like presentation (characters have strings attached to them and the ending scene for each chapter is a curtain call). Not only does the narrator continuously give us insight into Abby’s thoughts, the world around her, as well as how to guide her through it, but he later becomes a sort of antagonist in response to Abby’s rebellious actions.
While some of its twists were interesting, the awful way A Juggler’s Tale is written takes away from any enjoyment or meaning I was supposed to get out of the story. The game’s dialogue often comes off as cringy, mainly because 90% of it is presented in a rhyming format. In fact, every other line was a cheesy string of words I wish hadn’t been spoken.
It’s honestly a shame because A Juggler’s Tale tries to tackle a lot of interesting themes. The question of how far one is willing to go for their freedom, and are those lengths worth the safety and security you’ve known your whole life, come to mind.
Juggling ISN’T for Everyone
I’m actually a pretty big fan of puzzle games, particularly when they are done well. Unfortunately, A Juggler’s Tale failed in this regard. For starters, there aren’t a lot of actions Abby can take. She can interact with certain objects, aim them at targets, or roll them. There are also some lever mechanisms she can activate but they’re minor.
The puzzles themselves also tend to be rather simple. They mainly consist of guiding Abby through different terrains and helping her overcome the obstacles that keep her from advancing (i.e. needing to light tree branches on fire so she can pass or guiding her through a river by strategically placing wooden boards). Additionally, Abby is limited by the strings on her back, so sometimes an entire puzzle is just you trying to figure out how to get around the item her strings are stuck on.
Now, A Juggler’s Tale is a short game so I didn’t expect mind-blowing puzzles. However, there was ZERO difficulty to them. The ONLY thing that gave me a hard time was the game’s awful lighting. It seriously took me 20 minutes to find out how to leave an area because it was so dark I couldn’t see the item I needed to advance. I just clicked my way through until I finally got it. The lighting issue was a constant one, and it made figuring out what to do next exhausting rather than exciting.
Finally, I will add that the game’s controls felt rather wonky on the Switch. Aiming items was kind of difficult as Abby would randomly turn around when I was trying to line up my shot. She would also go straight into executing a completely different action when I was trying to finish doing something else. This made it so that I got caught almost immediately when doing things like trying to escape.
In short, between the lack of difficulty, the terrible lighting, the wonky controls, and the slew of glitches I faced towards the end of the game, my playthrough of A Juggler’s Tale felt like a huge waste of time.
A Theatrical Experience
A Juggler’s Tale is a pretty game. It may not win any awards when compared to current AAA titles but it’s beautifully colored and the world is brought to life in a mysterious way. The choice to present it as a theater production felt like an endearing one and I liked exploring the different areas we were treated to despite how limited they were. The score was similarly enticing, with certain songs fitting perfectly with the scenes unfolding in front of me.
In fact, I’d say the music was one of my favorite aspects of the game, as it enhanced the feeling of watching a play at a theater. I’d recommend keeping your sound on when playing this game for the music alone.
Despite it being pretty to look at, the lighting in A Juggler’s Tale was awful. The game was constantly dark which obviously does not bode well for completing puzzles, but it also took away from the magic of the environments. I understand the developer was going for a grimm fairytale setting, but after a while, I myself felt grim from looking at the screen.
A Juggler’s Tale tried to do a lot for a two-hour game, and while that’s not always a bad thing, I wish it had instead just focused on one thing and perfected it rather than throwing so much at me and having none of it land. I also came across a glitch where one of the cutscenes kept causing everything on my screen to freeze. I was eventually able to move past it but this particular issue, coupled with the terrible lighting and clunky controls, made playing through this game feel like a chore.
The Nintendo Switch version costs $17.99 and for that price, I would recommend literally any other game. Despite being good to look at, A Juggler’s Tale doesn’t have enough redeeming qualities to justify the price or the time investment. Unless you like the idea of shining a flashlight at your console just to see what you’re doing, save yourself.
Review copy provided by Mixtvision for the Nintendo Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Mixtvision.