If playing the role of court jester — and/or sock puppet — is your idea of a good time, then the chances are that you’ll have been searching for quite a while for the perfect game. That is, until now. Indie musicians-turned-game developers Bonte Avond have come together on Switch with Once Upon a Jester, a light-hearted musical tale that sees two friends performing stage shows across a strange kingdom in an attempt to nab a valuable royal gem.
Putting you in control of the aptly-named Jester, with his good friend and sockpuppet Sok (also fitting) closely nearby, you’ll travel from wacky town to wacky town through narrative-driven point-and-click sequences, before putting on improv theatre shows in order to win an invitation to perform at the royal palace and ultimately pull off an elaborate diamond heist. Sounds simple enough, right?
Gameplay-wise, Once Upon a Jester is pretty simplistic, with the crux of the story taking place around these stage shows you put on each night. You’ll take stock of what genres or themes people in the current town are into, and try to factor those into your performance in order to win as many bouquets as possible.
It’s mostly minigames and quick time events, with branching endings based on the choices you make under the stage lights. You do get to design your own posters for shows, and you’ll unlock more stickers to customise with as rewards, but they don’t really have any bearing on progression.
Characters regularly break into song throughout the game’s three-ish hour length, sometimes with a heartfelt tune, and often more preferably with absolute nonsense. My personal favourites include the breakout Ferris Wheel song from Princess Kirstina, or ‘I AM NO ONE IN YOUR EYES’. I’ll let you guess which of those two is serious and which isn’t.
The cast clearly had a lot of fun making this game, and you can even hear them sometimes stumbling over their lines or laughing as they deliver them. At one point, the developers themselves crudely pop up on-screen to explain a joke literally. These endearing imperfections give the game character. It’s not rough around the edges, it’s… soft around the edges?
This loose, laissez-faire attitude when it comes to the songwriting and dialogue in Once Upon a Jester doesn’t mean that it is untidy in its presentation, however. The game’s cartoony aesthetic is smooth and, unlike many of the performances you’ll attempt to pull off with Jester and Sok, goes along without a hitch. Autosaving is seamless and happens as the game transitions between scenes, and it never feels as if anything is stopping to load.
While gameplay-light and devoid of any real challenge (even with its varying difficulty levels that I imagine do help to make it more accessible to younger children), Once Upon a Jester is a short, enjoyable journey, with a light-hearted and whimsical story that I can see being a hit with kids and parents looking for something easy to play together. Like a cleverly executed children’s TV programme, there’s plenty of silliness for kids to enjoy, and enough irreverent humour for adults to get a kick out of, too.
Once Upon a Jester £12.99
A whimsical and light-hearted tale that’s also fairly light on gameplay, Once Upon a Jester is an enjoyable three-hour romp, with colourful silliness for children and irreverent humour for parents to keep both engaged as they play together.