Trouble is brewing deep in The Old World: the evil Archmage of Mampang Fortress has stolen the Crown of Kings from Analand, with which to lead all of Kakhabad against the neighbouring kingdoms and take control of them all. It’s up to you to retrieve the Crown and save the day for the Analanders — are you up to the task?
The only way to find out is to take up the quest in Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!, a choose-your-own-adventure gamebook that you can navigate on your trusty Android device. The original was published in 1983 as part of a series of four gamebooks, and interactive story specialists Inkle are hard at work bringing all that literary magic into the digital realm. So what’s it like playing a gamebook in 2014, and is it worth $5?
What’s a gamebook?
Choose-your-own-adventure books are essentially stories you can play — read a short chapter, choose a plot direction and head to the right page, and watch the story unfurl almost as if you were right there in the fictional world, making decisions as you go. Inkle’s digital versions take this a step further in Sorcery, with rich illustrations, background scores, navigable maps, and even a combat system. It’s a far cry from the RL Stine ‘Give Yourself Goosebumps‘ series I grew up with in the 90s, and nostalgics will be pleasantly surprised by how well this format works on mobile devices.
Sorcery! sees you take on the quest to find the Crown of Kings as either a warrior or a sorcerer, with every choice of yours affecting the plot. You’ll find yourself wandering through hills, forests, valleys and villages in your search for the Crown, and make many a friend and even more enemies along the way. Naturally, you’ll need to eat, sleep, and explore, and you’ll have to stay sharp if you want to survive.
Your whole adventure in Sorcery can be traced on a map, and that’s exactly what you’ll need to do to get from one place or event to another. By moving your character to available points, you’ll chart a path that will determine the encounters you have with people and places in the game world. At each point, you’ll be presented with a few paragraphs to read which explain what you’ve found, who you’ve met and what you need to do next — with options to choose from for your course of action. For example, when you come across a perilous cave, you’ll have the choice to take a look inside (and therefore deal with whatever might live there) or skip it and take a longer route to your destination. There are thousands of ways you can actually finish the game, because each choice will take you down a slightly different path and introduce new situations and characters.
The game UI looks great, with detailed graphic elements, illustrations by John Blanche, the artist from the original printed book, gorgeous new characters by DC Comics illustrator Eddie Sharam, and a hand-drawn 3D interactive map to guide you through The Old World. And besides navigating through the story, you’ll also be able to battle enemies using spells and combat skills. Read up on your opponents, spot their weaknesses, learn your spells and unleash powerful attacks to emerge victorious. It’s a system that’s easy enough to get used to, and effectively breaks the monotony of the game every once in a while.
As you travel through The Old World, you’ll also need to meet and ask questions of people to find out about your surroundings and how best to advance in your quest — and be prepared for anything. At one point, I found myself in an old woman’s hut outside a village, and, suspecting she was a witch, tried to outsmart her only to fail miserably and land myself in a soup. It took a lot of diplomatic conversation to get out of there in one piece, and I was reminded of some of my favorite classic point-and-click PC adventures like King’s Quest and The Curse of Monkey Island.
Should you buy this?
It’s important to remember that the Sorcery gamebook series was aimed at young readers aged nine and above, so don’t expect a dark, grim tale like George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. However, it’s a well-paced and well made game that nostalgics familiar with the series as well as younger gamebook enthusiasts will enjoy.
Fans will be able to get a lot of mileage out of this, thanks to the range of choices to carry the story forward at every turn. However, at this price, it’s hard to recommend to players who are neither into gamebooks nor have heard of the book series. If you do decide to embark on this quest, be sure to practice your spells — and watch out for the Manticore.