For being the debut release from fledgling German developers Kaleidoscube, A Juggler’s Tale is jam-packed with enough heart and soul that it’s easy to overlook this 2.5D platform adventure’s few shortcomings. Honestly, it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had this year.
Our story focuses on the titular juggler, Abby, and her struggle for freedom from the clutches of an ignoble ringmaster. After each performance, the ringmaster locks her away inside of a small cage, feeding her a meager portion of food fit only for rabbits. But, that all changes today!
The tale is narrated by an unseen entity dubbed The Storyteller, who regales Abby’s story to a pub full of patrons. However, as the game plays on you’ll begin to notice his demeanor change as your control of Abby doesn’t always reach his desired outcome. With A Juggler’s Tale having a shorter runtime (~2.5 hours), I’ll leave the rest of the story alone because it’s wonderfully delivered and, of course, you’re better off just experiencing it for yourself. Things are never what they seem!
On the gameplay front, it’s very similar to games like Limbo, Inside, and Little Nightmares (and it seems the developers agree as the same three comparisons are made on their website). You’ll explore linear levels while avoiding the gaze of bandits, evading monstrous trees, and encountering colossal arachnids.
Abby can climb and swing from ropes, throw things like rocks and apples, and move around boxes to progress further along. A Juggler’s Tale doesn’t stray from the familiar here, and that’s fine. It presents a largely serviceable platformer and drizzles in some clever puzzles that require you to make use of Abby’s puppet strings that are always dangling from the top of the screen.
For example, an early roadblock in the game presents you with a windmill that can’t be passed due to your strings getting caught on one of the blades. Using those strings to your advantage, you can backtrack a little and use them to adjust the direction of some running water to lure over a nearby cow being used as a beast of burden, tied to the earlier windmill in order to provide power. This slowly moves the blade, letting Abby cross and continue her journey.
Visually, A Juggler’s Tale is gorgeous. It’s an almost low-poly approach, but the colors and lightning present a lot of opportunities for screenshots (if that’s your thing — I’m a fan). There’s quite a bit of variety as well. You’ll traverse menacing forests, gentle rivers, lively villages, and even boat across the ocean before seeing the credits roll. It all plays very well with Jordan Toms’ wonderful music too.
It’s the technical side of A Juggler’s Tale that I had my only problems (just a couple!). I’m always happy when games support the Xbox Series X’s amazing Quick Resume feature, but when I resumed this one the framerate and music would become choppy for a little bit.
I ran into the same issue whenever I came back after posting a screenshot. I’m not sure if this is an isolated incident on Xbox (since that’s the only version I played) or if PlayStation users are also experiencing something similar. This could very well just be an Xbox hardware issue and not the software side.
I had to reload to an earlier checkpoint after Abby got stuck inside of a crank that was needed to ride an elevator. I just couldn’t interact with it or get myself out of its hitbox. The game is very generous with its checkpoints, though, so it’s not like I was sent back very far.
So yeah, not a lot to complain about! I can’t stress enough how fantastic A Juggler’s Tale is, despite not really attempting many new things within the genre. It doubles down on a familiar gameplay formula while distinguishing itself with some jaw-dropping, varied environments, delivering a fitting soundtrack that elevates the experience, and through its story-within-a-story narration by The Storyteller.
Not bad for their first game, huh?
A digital Xbox code was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review. A Juggler’s Tale is available for $17.99 USD on Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, and PC. It was played entirely on an Xbox Series X.