It will take you about 4 minutes to read this review.
Fast Travel Games’ The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets is a slightly misleading title; it may sound like an investigative case to put your detective skills to the test, but it’s really more of a whimsical little VR scavenger hunt, without much substance to the story behind it. So while those looking for a quirky mystery won’t find satisfaction here, what the game does deliver are charming production values and a short but simple gameplay experience that will appeal to casual players and the up-and-coming crowd of junior adventure gamers.
The crux of the game revolves around visiting five virtual worlds – essentially self-contained interactive playsets – and finding a number of cute and cuddly animals hidden within them. We can glean some fly-by story bits by virtue of the narrator, an elderly man who recalls snippets of time spent with his two granddaughters. As one of the two girls, now fully grown, it is implied that some argument has caused a rift between yourself and your sister, and your grandfather’s recounting of these memories to you is his attempt to rebuild a bridge between the two estranged siblings.
The game’s five interactive scenes are each patterned after one of your grandfather’s memories of you, such as a model train set chugging through a mountain-side winter wonderland, the family’s summer house, or a sandy island floating in an ocean to represent that time the sisters fought over who had to clean the aquarium. Each world is a little dollhouse-sized setting unto itself, suspended in a void in which you yourself are also present. To interact with the environments, solve their puzzles, and find the pets hidden from you by your sister (since you were always the animal lover), you’ll be able to spin the entire scene on its axis as you float in front of it.
Looking down from a giant’s first-person perspective, it is possible to take a step or two, lean in close, and even duck down for a peek from below. Spinning and interacting can be done using both hands, such as with the Oculus Touch, though I had an issue using two PlayStation Move controllers. One of them was not being tracked successfully and its on-screen icon simply plunged down into the abyss; using a normal PlayStation 4 controller worked much better for me on console.
With only five worlds to play around in (plus your tiny childhood bedroom that acts as a hub to the individual stages via paintings), it’s no surprise that Stolen Pets is an exceedingly short experience. In fact, at just over an hour of playtime, the game can easily be completed in a single sitting, with experienced players likely able to find even the optional scattered hidden coins along the way. To its credit, discovering the cute surprises in store throughout each imaginative setting and working out their puzzles is engaging enough. But as each stage was cleared, I kept waiting for the story to grip me with an emotional turn, or for the reveal that this was just the beginning of a grander adventure still to come, but no such revelation occurred. And while finding all collectibles and earning the trophies available (at least in the PSVR version) added on a few extra minutes, there’s nothing that would push the game toward a repeat play session.
Puzzles are certainly creative in their execution but generally fairly simple to solve. Some obstacles, for example, require manipulating the environment to your advantage, such as causing the water level to rise or fall in the island setting in order to achieve certain conditions, or using an erupting volcano’s globs of airborne lava to light torches scattered around the prehistoric stage. Other times, anachronistic real-world objects have found their way into the playsets, such as finding a magic wand in the enchanted castle or a giant hair dryer that can be used to melt the snow around a winter cabin. They don’t offer much of a cerebral challenge but will provide an entertaining hour of discovery.
Next to the easy but entertainingly creative puzzles, it’s really the game’s visual presentation that is its biggest attention grabber. For the short duration you spend with each of them, the worlds are beautifully detailed and really invite leaning in for closer inspection. Each scene is wholly unique, adding to the initial sense of wonder, and the color palette is about as varied and vibrant as one could ask for. The titular pets – which range from mundane dogs and squirrels to wooly mammoths and dinosaurs – are incredibly cute and, much like Grandpa and your sister, are little googly-eyed chibis. They even have their own adorable sound effects when interacted with. The enchanting instrumental melodies, featuring music by the Swedish band Wintergatan, are perfect for carefree exploration, and Grandpa is even fully voiced with passable quality.
The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets is quite a neat little experience thanks to the sense of creativity that shines through each of its environments. For players of a younger age, the game will offer a small slice of family-friendly fun with a focus on relaxing gameplay. More seasoned gamers will be equally charmed, but the low level of challenge, short play time, and very limited narrative are more noticeable issues. After completing it, the only thing I’m left curious about is what tale the game was really telling, and what exactly the stolen pets had to do with it, but my inner child is still glad to have gotten a chance to play in its toy-sized sets while it lasted.