A Juggler's Tale (PC) review
"A fun, short game - providing you have the balls for it"
A Juggler’s Tale is an interactive puppet performance - or at least that’s what it would originally like you to believe! It’s the tale of Abby. She juggles for a circus sometimes, but she’s multi-talented; as you join her tale, her first big act is outsmarting a giant bear for the entertainment of the crowds. There’s no prevalent danger at this stage; the bear will playfully swat her away if she comes too close, but her early trials are there to set the tone. Juggler’s Tale is a puzzle platformer with a twist. Rather than rely on twitch reflexes and precision, pixel-perfect jumping, she has to try and figure out how to use her surroundings to her advantage. Except, sometimes, her surroundings actively work against her. Abby’s unique burden is that she’s a marionette puppet, and her strings will get tangled up with anything overhead.
That won’t be an issue in the early goings as she explores the circus and outsmarts her bear friend. Only, the wholesome scene soon starts to dissipate. You quickly discover that Abby’s not a willing performer, but a captive, and the conclusion of her act sees her locked inside a tiny cage by the ringmaster. Things start to change from here on out; the game is no longer about a carefree young performer, but a desperate girl longing for freedom. It’s a sudden tonal change in every aspect apart from the narration. Through the game, there’s a voice from above, narrating the game with rhyming verse. As the game goes on, it becomes clear that this isn’t just a charming feature, but the voice is instead dictating the story. He’s in control and Abby is just an actor in his plans. Except, sometimes, Abby wants no part in the tale he’s trying to tell. She’s capable of rebelling, and he’s not especially fond of that.
For every direction ignored, the world around Abby becomes a little darker, and the obstacles placed in her path slightly harder to overcome. Initially, her escape sees her surge through sunlit fields and picturesque plains. There’s no immediate threat and the quaint surroundings suggest no immediate threat. Then, as the sun retreats, the fields give way into a forest. There’s not a lot of light, and the guiding fires lit along Abby’s path are endangered by the sudden bout of driving rain. For a while, this is only going to slow down her puzzle solving progress; there’s a drawbridge mechanism to bypass, or there’s foliage that needs to be burnt to clear her path. But there’s bigger dangers lurking in the first, just out of sight. Hungry things.
From here on out, Abby’s playing fugitive, being chased by circus minions who are keen to get her back under lock and key. Much of her escape then becomes a game of cat and mouse, trying to either sneak past her pursuers, or manufacturing distractions that let her slip past. Only, the most she pushes against the narrative, the more the narrative pushes back on her. It has the ability to warp the world around her, changing the scope or the setting of the tale she’s in on a malicious whim.
I’m getting vaguer with these descriptions because A Juggler’s Tale is a short game. You should be able to see it through to completion in a couple of hours, in which the tale of the game advances briskly. The further she gets into her escape attempt, the more her versus world predicament becomes more and more literal. Though a coherent plot is told despite the short run time, there’s certainly a feeling that more could be done with the tale, and the launch price does feel high considering the condensed length of the game. That said, there’s no noticeable dips in the tale, and things never seem to get dragged down. There’s always something going on, either with Abby or with the constantly evolving world around. You could say A Juggler’s Tale manages to keep a lot of balls in the air.
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