iPad Game Review: Steve Jackson's Sorcery! (Universal) Review
Reviewed by Tom Slayton
Steve Jackson's Sorcery! is a gamebook that has been neatly adapted to iOS. While it has all the traditional trappings of an RPG, what sets it apart is that all takes place within the pages of a book.
Gamebooks like Sorcery! have been around for a long time. In the olden days, you would read the story like a traditional novel, but when you encountered, say, a fork in the road, you would make a decision and then flip to the appropriate page to read the outcome. Or, when you encountered an enemy, you would roll your dice to determine the outcome. Fast-forward a few decades and now we are seeing some of these old classic gamebooks being adapted to electronic form, some with more success than others. While Sorcery! was considered one of the better gamebooks, it positively shines on the iPad. The story still advances by reading the old fashioned way, but instead of flipping pages or rolling dice, you are treated to some wonderfully hand-drawn graphics, that manage to enhance your immersion into the story rather than remove you from it. For example, battles are still waged by selecting an action, but in order to be successful, that action should be selected based on the descriptive text that fills the screen between each round. In this way, your actions complement the story rather than run alongside it.
Movement over the map also does a great job of keeping you in the story. Your character is represented by a very low-tech looking game piece that slides smoothly along the road or over the countryside, as if an invisible hand were moving it. Whenever you come to a point in the story (remember: this is a book!) where a decision is to be made, the pages slide across one another in such a way that keeps the story moving seamlessly forward. Magic is a big part of Sorcery! but unlike other RPGs, you won't be able to indiscriminately blast your foes with arcane energy. Instead, spells must be discovered and reagents must be collected. Even then, casting the appropriate spell requires you to line up the correct characters, as if you were sliding one page with holes torn in it over one with random letters. While there are a lot of spells, unfortunately, you will quickly find that only a few of them are truly useful; at least in this book. There are four books in the Sorcery! series, and this first one, while polished and fun, is quite short; so much so that depending on how quickly you play through it, it's likely to feel more like an introduction or a prologue than a full game. This is my only real quibble with Sorcery! but it's likely to vaporize once the other books are available.
After seeing the screenshots for Sorcery! , I didn't expect much graphically. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful this game is. While there is clearly a concerted effort to make this game look like it is made entirely out of paper, this does not mean that they cut corners 0n the visuals. Scrolling around on the map reveals its topography through the use of clever parallax effects, and characters in combat slide smoothly back and forth across the screen as they battle. The graphics may be hand-drawn, but the developer went to great lengths to make Sorcery! feel visually rich without abandoning its low-tech roots.
Both music and sound complement Sorcery! nicely, and serve to increase its immersive qualities. This is a peaceful game, and a large part of that is the game's rich audio.
In-App Purchases (IAPs)
There are no IAPs in Sorcery!
Sorcery! does a great job of resurrecting the dwindling genre of gamebooks. Its story is engaging enough to pull you in, its gameplay elements are challenging enough to be fun, and the audio/visuals are polished enough to make you forget you are playing a souped-up gamebook. Sorcery! may be short, but it's a rich gaming/reading experience, and well-worth the price of admission.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 5 - Surprisingly slick visuals. Screenshots do not do it justice. Sound: - 4 - The sound is good, as is the music, but neither will make you reach for your headphones. Controls: - 5 - It feels like you're playing a gamebook, but without all the jarring transitions usually associated with them. Gameplay: - 4 - A unique and enjoyable game, albeit a short one.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Sorcery! may be a RPG, but it's a forgiving one. If you find yourself stuck because of a bad decision, or a poorly fought battle, simply go back to any point in the game prior to that, and play it again. This is also useful for experimenting and exploring. Read the text for clues, particularly in battle.