Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! – Review (Android)

Turn to page 122. You have died.

If necessity is the mother of invention then technology has become the mother of re-invention. From movies to video games, television to books, everything is being re-imagined into new formulas and formats. Such is the case with the 80′ four-part adventure book series,Sorcery!. Just as with the books, the game will be released in four parts, but reformatted for phones and tablets.

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In the first installment of Sorcery! you play as a warrior sent on a quest by your king to retrieve a crown stolen by an archmage who wishes to build a massive army and take over the land. Just as with any RPG you begin your mission with very little funds and a weak character. Oh, and for some bizarre reason after you leave the gates of the kingdom of Analand, the air stinks, causing you to lose some of your stamina.

Rations and food restore stamina and you are expected to sleep in predetermined areas along the map. However, you are given a multitude of choices along your quest; you can be good and help everyone you come across, or you can be evil and try to battle anyone you see.  Flags mark new destinations, and there is even the chance to go back to older areas to rectify a bad choice or acquire an item you may have missed on the first pass. If you make the wrong choice in the game it may take a bit of time to catch up with you, but make no mistake, if you do make too many of the wrong choices you will end up dead.

As is often the case in mobile gaming, Sorcery! involves a lot of frantic swiping in order to advance your mission. To attack you slide your character forward using a dragging motion then you select an option below the character in relation to the attack power. If this sounds confusing, you are not alone, because it is. Attacks range from powerful thrusts on the right to defensive stances on the left. Even in a defensive position you are still liable to take some damage along the way.  To cast spells an animation starts that points you up at the sky and you are told to select letters to form the spell. Letters often appear at random and if you are missing any part of the spell, it will fail; leaving you scratching your head, because it does not inform you in advance what is needed.

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Sorcery! features hand drawn maps and characters. Animations are fluid and impressive, but can break up the flow of the game. The story is told by pages that looked ripped and well-worn, each section of page sewn to the next one in an effort not to overload the reader with information. When you encounter an important NPC, an illustration by John Blanche pops up, looking as though it were ripped directly from the 1983 book itself. The in-game characters look a bit less detailed but convey a charm of their own.

Because of the sheer amount of text, a narrator might have been a helpful addition to guide you along the way, even if it were just an option in the settings menu so it didn’t interfere with those who wanted to read the story.  Fonts can appear a bit too small in areas and can become hard to read. For those of us that can remember this style of books, it may come as no surprise that something is lost in the translation. When sitting down with an adventure novel, there is something gripping about the turn of the page, the possibilities that lay ahead, though we mark the page just in case something horrible happens, and then we claim that we never intended to make that choice in the first place. These are the types of books that we would hide under sheets in bed with a flashlight and stay up until the wee hours of the morning with sly grins on our faces. In our minds and in those books we were heroes. In this game you are the hero, but it is not the same tactile and satisfying experience. Perhaps newer generations may experience something similar from their own beds, under their own blankets, with their tablets running until the sun begins to rise.

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The first installment of Sorcery! takes its inspiration from the books so much so that it often quite literally rips directly from the pages of the very source material it is drawn from. The game is almost like playing a board game, moving your character from place to place as one would move a game piece across a field of play. Ultimately Sorcery! is a fascinating look into what can happen when a Choose Your Own Adventure style book is transformed by today’s new media formats.

Part one of Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! is now available on iOS and Android.

  • wopazar

    I have been of fan of SJG game books since The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. This is a great video game adaption. If you are looking for more I suggest you take a look at Tales of Illyria on Android which uses the same Choose Your Own Adventure game mechanics but is party based and has a more robust combat and travel system. Or on the PC try Banner Saga.