Sorcery! is a straight-up, honest-to-goodness love letter to role playing gamebooks of the 1980s.
“But Mick, what’s a gamebook?!?,” you gasp? Gamebooks were originally created using a flaky substance called “paper”, compiled into a battery-less volumes called “books”…long before the Atari/Nintendo/PlayStation.Kindle/Nook/iPad revolution.
As far back as the late 70s, publishers began creating sets of RPG books designed for a single player experience. Basically, they were illustrated Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories, which would include dice rolls for random events and actions. The market exploded in the 80s and 90s, with nearly every major RPG manufacturer taking part.
Unfortunately, with a larger demand comes a larger group of titles…which eventually led to more complex rules. Not surprisingly, the fad died out in the mid-to-late 90s, with most either reverting back to tabletop games, or chasing the dragon into the ever-expanding world of videogames.
Well, since the “new” push is to go back to the drawing board, you can’t go much further back than digitizing gamebooks. And, well, it happened. As someone who played a ton of such gamebooks in the past, I can unequivocally say:
Inkle nailed it.
From the scratchy, pen-and-ink art style, to the ambient sounds as you journey on your adventure, to the semi-scripted combat, Sorcery! is a slam dunk.
Not unlike a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, you’ll continually be given branching choices to play with, but you’ll also have to manage your assets: gold, rations and stamina. Stamina allows you to fight to see another day, however it also dictates which spells you can cast. Rations and sleep will keep you energized, so make sure to stock up on both whenever you can.
Of course, you’ll want to save gold too, since you’ll have to pay for inns, donate to beggars (almost always a good idea) and pay for incidental expenses throughout your journey. You never know how many palms you’ll have to grease!
Of course, the meat of Sorcery! is, well, sorcery. By going back to the main menu, you have access to a suite of three letter spells, most of which should be easily committed to memory. You’ll be faced with situations, both in combat and while exploring, that will aid you. And probably stop you from dying.
In order to successfully cast a spell, you’ll need to align the letters, not unlike stars, to properly cast the spell. The only problem is, sometimes the spell that you think you want is unavailable. For example, I was in a combat situation with a giant, and remembered that there was a spell that would make things small. I figured, small enemy = easy kill. Unfortunately, the only option available was for me to make myself bigger, and fight it “normally”…which didn’t end so well for my stamina.
Combat is a dicey endeavor (no pun intended). Basically, you’ll slide your player into a series of stances: blocking, cutting, stabbing or lunging, and depending on how your opponent is attacking, you’ll (hopefully) come out on top. It essentially boils down to a fancy looking game of rock paper scissors. Sure, once you get the hang of it (and learn to read the textual prompts), you’ll know when to strike, and which strike to use. But for me, I didn’t really get the hang of it until halfway through the game.
Of course, like I said before: you can always attempt to cast a spell before combat begins, to skew the odds in your favor. In fact, I’d recommend trying it more often than not.
Unfortunately, once you really get going on the story, it’s over. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a ton to your adventure, but unless you enjoy it in bites, you’ll be able to blow through it in a couple short hours.
Of course, there’s a bunch of replay value, thanks to the red “reverse” flags peppered throughout each map. If you were anything like me, in the 80s, I’d have three fingers, four bookmarks and dog-ears marking “huge” choices throughout the story, so I could retrace my steps without starting. The red flags act as bookmarks, allowing you to replay different choices to see where they lead.
Ultimately, we devoured the campaign and all of its twists, and were still hungry for more. Still, the first “book” was a mere $4.99, and the next one is due out later this year…so you can’t be mad. It’s easily one of the best $5 you can spend in the iOs marketplace. So go get it, already!