We used to love Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy books, which were basically papery versions of videogames – turn to page 67 to cast a spell of smiting, turn to page 108 to wet your breeches and run away, that sort of thing. Well, kids don’t know what a book is these days, but they can still play those classic adventures thanks to Sorcery!, an iOS update complete with beautiful illustrations, atmospheric sound effects and proper full-on interaction.
Your mystical quest sees you hunting down a mystical crown in a perilous land filled with wild beasties and bandits. At first the whole point of tracking down this royal headgear is unclear, but the backstory is gradually revealed as you push ahead. We’d have preferred a bit more information to begin with, to raise the stakes and get us involved in the mission, but to be fair the plots of the Fighting Fantasy books were always fluffy. It’s all about the exploration and bloody limb-rendering battles...
Swords and spells
All of the necessary skills are set up in a brief tutorial that takes place in your home town, before you set off on your crown hike. Fighting is one of the more valuable lessons, and proves to be well handled with a simplified mini-game feel, instead of heaps of stats and dice rolls. The fight is played out via text, with clues given as to what your enemy will do next. You can choose to either defend, which minimises the impact of even strong attacks, or you can have a go to try and knock off some of their stamina. The strength of your blow can be altered via a sliding scale, and if you attack at the same time as your enemy, the one with the most forceful blow will win out. Use too much strength early on, however, and you’ll have none left to finish off your foe. There’s an element of luck to battles, of course, but you’ll also have to employ careful tactics to emerge unscathed.
You’re also handed a spell book filled with 40+ powers, which can get you out of many a tight scrape. From cushioning a fall to turning yourself huge, there’s a great variety of spells that all prove useful at some point, and can give you a killer advantage in a fight.
It’s a big, bad world
When you set off into the world, your journey is relayed via short chunks of text, which are well written and atmospheric – helped by the excellent sound effects and occasional bout of dramatic music. Stalk through a forest and you’ll hear insects and birds, while slipping inside a cavern surrounds you with the sinister sound of dripping water. You progress through the realm by dragging a path across a beautifully rendered map, with colourful flags denoting a location you can explore.
At regular points you have to make a choice which affects the adventure. For instance, if you happen across a blind ogre, do you try to convince him you’re a friend, charge in with your sword drawn, or run screaming with your pantaloons filled with excrement? Take the riskier approach and you’re more likely to be hurt or killed, but the rewards can be great. You can also choose different paths to your destination, which affects a sizeable chunk of what happens and adds greatly to the game’s replayability.
If you do fall in battle or make a duff decision, you can restart at a nearby checkpoint or even rewind the adventure to an earlier point to try something different. It’s the equivalent of keeping your thumb stuck at the previous page, like we all used to with the books. Of course, the ability to jump back to absolutely any point means you’re free to take as many risks as you like, with no real consequences, which lessens the tension of battles and critical decisions somewhat.
Sorcery! is a beautifully crafted and excellent refresh of the classic Fighting Fantasy books, brought up to date for a whole new generation to enjoy. The simple but fun combat and game-changing decisions make it a truly involving and addictive game, despite the bog-standard plot and tension-killing checkpoints.