Indie Quickie: Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!

It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.

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What is it? Jump into the Way-Back machine, returning to the halcyon days of Steve Jackson’s choose-your-own-adventure gamebooks—that’d be the early to mid-‘80s–where men were men and death awaited at the end of every ill-fated decision to enter the cave rather than walk past. Only this time, there are Middle-Earthian maps, mini-games and a first-rate graphical presentation.

Who made it and where can you get it? Inkle Studios are responsible for updating this slice of fantasy-gaming history. It’s available on iOS devices for $4.99.

How much did we play? Our quest to retrieve the fabled Crown of Kings carried past the plague-riddled village of Urrustanti, through the ruins of Lia-Ki and into the far reaches of Torrepani. Died once or twice—damn that black lotus–rewound and explored several different options at each stop.

Any technical concerns or hardware requirements you should know about? A bug crashed the game about two hours in, forcing a trudge back to the poverty and despair of the opening village. A patch purports to have fixed the problem, but warrior beware: Choosing your own adventure is supposed to require some backtracking and rewinding, but not THAT much.

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Why should you play it?

    • E is for Epic: Jackson’s original Sorcery! series spanned four full gamebooks, and even though only the first one is contained here, the adventure still seems expansive. You plot and track your progress on a massive gameboard/map, a design choice that really gives you the sense of how far you’ve traveled (and how far you still have to go). The map also makes it easy to backtrack as little or as much as you’d like: If you decide you’d like to figure out which spell will let you access those seaside caves instead of forging ahead to the next village, you can go back and do it at any point. And you don’t even need a bookmark.

    • Sideswipe! : Combat in Sorcery! is its own special mini-game, in which you slide your hero avatar to the right to determine the strength of your attack (or whether you’ll simply defend against whatever your opponent throws at you). Reading for clues in the text that pops up after each attack is critical to surviving with your stamina intact—and avoiding a “shameful” combat rating. If, for instance, the text notes that the giant is staggering, it might be time to go in for the kill; if he’s enraged and wounded, defending is probably a better choice. And don’t think you’ll just rush in with sword swinging every time—your power drains with every attack, and defending’s the only thing that refills it.

    • Magic’s in the Stars: As the name of the game suggests, you’re equipped with a surprisingly detailed spellbook in Sorcery!, allowing you to cast all sorts of helpful charms, assuming you’ve obtained the proper material. You can ZAP monsters with bolts of lightning, SAP your opponent’s strength or cast HOW for a psychic inclination as to which door to pick. The actual casting of said spells is a little silly—you’re shifting a series of letter-constellations into three windows to spell out the magic–but it doesn’t really take anything away from the experience.

Parting Thoughts: The detailed and interactive presentation helps make the concept of gamebooks seem fresh and fun again, but more than anything, Sorcery! is a much-needed reminder of the magical power of good writing, a skill that sometimes feels like a lost art in a world of pretty pixels and massive explosions. Plus, as Sheldon Cooper would say, the game’s really powered by the most powerful graphic chip of all—your imagination. It feels a little odd that the remaining three gamebooks aren’t part of the experience—at $5 a pop, this could become an expensive proposition—but we’ll wait and see how it all plays out before rendering judgment.

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.