Review – A Juggler’s Tale
I really need to find a better term for indie platformers inspired by Limbo and Inside other than “the little kid running away from imminent danger genre”, but I really cannot think of one. It is one of the most iconic niches in indie gaming thanks to Playdead’s critical and commercial darlings, even if some people dismiss other games in the same bubble for being too derivative or just not creative enough with their mechanics. Well, whatever the case, there is a new kid in town you should absolutely give a chance: A Juggler’s Tale is easily one of the surprise indie hits of the year for me.
In A Juggler’s Tale, you control Abby, a talented juggler who travels with a circus troupe. Well, in her case, it’s more of a “being forced to travel with this troupe” situation, as she’s basically a prisoner to an evil ringmaster, being locked in a cage just like other animals. One day, she manages to grab the keys to her cage and escape, thus embarking in a journey about freedom and finding your place in the world. Also, a tale about overcoming monsters, traps, and a very annoying bounty hunter hired by the ringmaster.
By itself, this would already be enough of a fun premise for a game, but there’s a catch. A Juggler’s Tale is entire presented with puppetry. Abby is a puppet on a string. Every other character in the game, be it a human or an animal, is also a puppet on a string. The beginning of each chapter is even presented with cardboard trees in order to emulate a proper puppet show, but things get a bit more, err, “realistic” afterwards.
The puppet-like nature of A Juggler’s Tale also directly impacts on the gameplay. Just like Limbo or Inside, this is a totally linear puzzle platformer, focused on pushing boxes, handling small mechanisms, and dealing with natural obstacles, such as a river, trees, and more. However, if something stands in the way of your strings, you cannot progress. You have to be aware not only of your character, but the strings holding her. That creates tons of possibilities for creative puzzles, in a way neither Limbo nor Inside were able to achieve. Even if they had more visually impactful moments than this game, A Juggler’s Tale beats them when it comes to its gameplay and puzzle design… for the most part. Some of them are obtuse and poorly explained.
The best thing about A Juggler’s Tale isn’t its (gorgeous) visuals or (really creative) gameplay. The gold medal goes to its sound design. Not only is the soundtrack absolutely excellent, but the way the game is fully narrated, oh boy, this is worthy of all the prizes. The game is narrated by the sweetest of old men who occasionally gets a bit grumpier depending on your actions, but the catch is that it’s almost entirely narrated via poetry. It’s absolutely heartwarming.
As brilliant as A Juggler’s Tale is, this is not a perfect game. At the time of writing, the game is still suffering from a handful of really annoying glitches, such as entire bosses just disappearing from out of nowhere, only to reappear a few moments later, in their traditional static asset position, ascending to the heavens like a little statue. I won’t deny it was a funny scene, but it ruined one of the most important things about this game as a whole: its immersion. A Juggler’s Tale is in need of a patch or two in order to fix these issues. Let me reassure you, they are not game-breaking, they are just annoying and immersion-breaking.
You really shouldn’t dismiss A Juggler’s Tale as just another Limbo or Inside clone. I might even consider it as good, if not better, than its main sources of inspiration. Not only does it feature gameplay elements that take advantage of its unique setting, but it also has a really engaging story that captivates you right away thanks to some superb voice acting. Even if art games aren’t exactly your thing, you should definitely give A Juggler’s Tale a try. It’s not just a very good art game, it’s a very good game, period.
A Juggler’s Tale features gorgeous graphics and performance, but they are hampered by the ever occasional immersion-breaking glitch.
A nice take on the narrative puzzle platformer genre, thanks to the emphasis on your puppet’s strings, though some puzzles can feel a bit obtuse at times.
Flawless. Not only is the soundtrack fantastic, but the voice acting is worthy of several performance awards.
Fun Factor: 8.5
As a whole, a gorgeous and engaging puzzle platforming experience, featuring superb voice acting and level design. Sadly, it is a bit rough around the edges, with the aforementioned immersion-breaking glitches ruining the experience.
Final Verdict: 9.0
A Juggler’s Tale is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC and Switch.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of A Juggler’s Tale was provided by the publisher.