Review by Bobby Blackwolf

Game Review: Steve Jackon's Sorcery!

Game Review: Steve Jackon's Sorcery!

When I was a kid, I loved reading Choose Your Own Adventure novels. I might not have always read them in the correct order by going to the page they told me to, but they were quite enjoyable. Those were a type of "gamebook" primarily aimed at children, and during the 80's there were other writers selling variations of the gamebook format. One popular variation was an "adventure gamebook," one that combined the narrative with a solitary tabletop roleplaying experience. One of the main figures creating such experiences was Steve Jackson, co-founder of Games Workshop (not to be confused with the guy who created Munchkin) with his Fighting Fantasy series. The series of books that are not a part of the main chronology are now coming to iOS devices - Steve Jackson's Sorcery!

From Gamebook To Your iDevice

Inkle Interactive Studios has a history in the "Interactive Fiction" genre of games - your text adventure, Infocom-style games that people thought went away in the 80's, but are in fact still popular with a niche crowd today. They also have a history working with all of the top console manufacturers on the games of today, so it only makes sense that they would take on the challenge of bringing together those seemingly different styles into one experience.

The Hills Are Alive
The Hills Are Alive
This app covers the first of the four books in the series - The Shamutanti Hills - which begins with the revelation that the Crown of Kings has been stolen. As a young adventurer, you set forth towards the city of Khare, making friends, gathering supplies, and fighting monsters all along the way. You have Stamina, which fluctuates wildly during the story for environmental reasons, and an inventory with weapons, gold, and rations. During your journey, you will have the option of buying or trading wares that will help you along the way, or having them all taken away from you if you choose the wrong path.

The prose has been greatly amended and had features added from the original gamebook as well. Using the Inklewriter system, it allows for the game to remember every action you do, and tailors future encounters to that action. Are you rude to the guy just outside of the town? It remembers that. Even if you pick the "nice" choice to the guy INSIDE the town, the prose will still state that you were "nice" in a rude way. If you're nice throughout your adventure, and then lie later on, people will believe your lie.

At the end of your journey, you will receive a password that connects to a saved game on the cloud, which you can reference in the next book when it comes out. On my first playthrough (which takes a couple of hours) I was chided for not having any friends, and only having a crappy sword and one key to the city I was going to. All items and stats you accumulate will carry on and possibly help you in future books.

Unfortunately, there is no multiple save game system, so be sure to take a screenshot of your password if you wish to start over. I also would have liked the ability to have multiple save points throughout the adventure instead of either starting over from the Prologue or permanently going back to a previous event. While you can, at any time, go back to any previous event (with your stats at that time) or go down any different path, you cannot return to where you were without going through all of the previous events again.

Fight Or Flight

A New Challenger Approaches
A New Challenger Approaches
The biggest change to the original gamebook that Sorcery brings is to the battle mechanic. In the gamebook, you used dice, or flipped through the pages of the book, which had a dice image at the bottom of each page. The app brings more of an interactive and strategical element that wasn't truly possible with a book. It's all about managing your Attack Power and reacting to what your opponent is doing.

By sliding your character to the right, you have more of a power behind your attack. If your Attack Power is greater than your opponents, then your attack lands for multiple points of Stamina. If you decide to stay all the way to the left, you enter a Defend position, and their attack will only cost you one Stamina. The trick is to read the prose that comes onto the screen - they will give hints of what your opponent would do next, and that helps you determine when to conserve energy and when to go in for the kill.

Each opponent has a different strategy, and there's no harm in trying different things - you can always try the battle again even if you win. Some battles will allow you to cast a spell beforehand, helping you gain the upper hand. Just note that not all spells are available at all times, so read through the spellbook (which was a separate book, or in the appendix, of the original gamebooks) before entering any fight - once you state you're casting a spell, you CANNOT back out of it!

Sights And Sounds

This guy doesn't like you
This guy doesn't like you
The primary interface is a 3D map that looks like the maps you'd find in the Lord of the Rings books. Mountains and valleys are clearly visible as you move your miniature across the landscape. Throughout the adventure, beautiful hand-drawn illustrations show you the wolf that's about to eat you or the innkeeper that's about to sell you some bread. It really does feel like an 80's gamebook has come to life.

The audio is appropriate to where you are in the world. If you're in a village, you'll hear the sounds of a bustling street. If you're in a forest, you'll hear the chirps and cries of the local wildlife. If you're in a cave, you'll hear dripping that will make you think you actually have a leak in your house. (Personal experience on that one.) Sometimes the audio gets annoying and I turn it off (especially if I'm camping in the forest and a buzzard or something makes the exact same squawk every five seconds I wanted to kill that thing but noooooo Steve Jackson didn't write in that battle so I couldn't cast a spell to wring that thing's neck or anything.......)

...All in all, it adds to the immersion.

The Verdict

A single playthrough will take a couple hours, but there's no way you can experience the entire story in a single playthrough. Inkle claims that no two playthroughs are exactly alike, and I believe them. On my second time through the adventure, I encountered a completely different set of circumstances just by going left instead of right. The replayability is huge, which is why it's a shame there's no multiple saves for me to really enjoy that replayability.

Technically, I was impressed with both the prose technology as well as the crispness of the graphics and sound. I never had any issues on my iPad 2, and it behaves as expected when you have to immediately close it and go to something else. The commentary during battles is a welcome innovation, and once deciphered, can make a hardened warrior out of anybody.

There IS a lot of text to read, and while Inkle has done a fine job placing them in small chunks so there is no giant wall of text, people with short attention spans might not be able to stomach it. There also isn't a way to reference what happened earlier, especially if it was a few days earlier in real time. The only way to go back to a previous event is to revert your entire game back to that event and slowly work your way back to where you left off. If I was actually playing on the original gamebook, I could just flip through the pages and find it for reference.

The price may seem steep at $4.99, especially for an iOS app in the land of 99 cent games, but you're getting the entire experience. There are no microtransactions, no DLC, and no addons. There IS probably four times the content of the original gamebook, which you can get for around the same price from used booksellers.

If Interactive Fiction is your thing, then this is a wonderful evolution of the medium. This is also a worthy purchase for those who are waxing nostalgic on the original gamebook. For those that aren't, be forewarned that you WILL need to have a good memory to evade certain traps and solve certain riddles, and you can't just skim over the text that comes up. Sorcery isn't for the TL;DR crowd.

In other words, if you read this entire review, you'd probably should just turn the page and buy the game.

Price: $4.99
Version Reviewed: iPad 2
Acquisition Method: Promo code provided by publisher

(Note: I'm aware the screenshots have been terribly down-rezzed by our gallery interface. You can see better versions at the official site.)

Our Grade:
The Good:
  • Impressive Interactive Fiction tool remembers every action in a visible way
  • Innovative battle system where the running commentary is important
  • Wonderful 2D illustrations make the world feel like it did in the original gamebooks
The Bad:
  • No multiple save games, forcing you to revert your entire game just to check out a previous scene again
  • No in-game system to keep notes, which make riddles and traps more difficult when you have to remember earlier events
  • The damn buzzard in the woods. Or whatever that thing was.

Bobby Blackwolf is the host of The Bobby Blackwolf Show on the VOG Network, lead developer of the website, and lead GM for VOG: The Game. Follow him on Twitter at @BobbyBlackwolf

Review by - 5/1/2013 8:41 PM311 views

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