REVIEW: Sorcery! (iPad)

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  • iOS (iPhone and iPad) / Rated 12+ / $4.99 / released May 2013
  • OFFICIAL SITE: Inkle Studios
  • PURCHASE LINK: iTunes
  • FINAL: You WANT this game. 4 out of 5 stars

Back before the concept of a “video game” seriously took root, nerdy adventurism was chiefly found in pre-electronic role-playing rulebooks like “Dungeons & Dragons.” Wielding the twin powers of unfettered imagination and oddly shaped dice, these pen-and-paper games were poker night and movie night in one friend-focused package.

But when you couldn’t get your mates over for some high fantasy die-rolling, you could always rely on books like “Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!” Similar to the grade school “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, the “Sorcery!” series replicated the mechanics of “Dungeons & Dragons” but eliminated the need for, well, friends. You read some of the story until the book presented you with a choice, decided what action to take, rolled dice to determine success or failure, and proceeded along whatever path your decisions led.

The original “Sorcery!” saga was told over the course of four books published between 1983 and 1985. The “Sorcery!” app translates the first in the series, “The Shamutanti Hills,” beginning the story of a lone adventurer on a quest to find the Crown of Kings. However, do not assume that the modern age has transformed “Sorcery!” into a violent, visceral video game of swords and gore! No, it remains as it was: a book of choices. Fed to you via scraps of paper that sew themselves together, the story is told in paragraph chunks as you move across the map. Decisions are made with a tap, and spells are cast by sliding letters into short mystical words.

Combat is handled with a simple power meter; you choose the strength of your attack and see how it measures against your opponent’s move. Your energy refills if you choose to defend, so fighting becomes an interesting dance between strong attacks, measured feints and rejuvenating blocks. Each battle is fully narrated by the book, describing your technique while providing hints as to your enemy’s next action. You’re essentially crafting your own story even as the prose subtly works to help you along! It’s brilliant to see in action, especially when you consider how much work had to go into crafting this elegant marriage of text and choice.

But what if your choices go ill? “Sorcery!” allows you to rewind time at any point, just as if you gave up and decided to go back to page 57 of the original novella. As such, the punishment for dying in a Hill Giant’s cave is minimal. From start to finish, you can expect one adventure through Shamutanti to take only an hour or more, but there’s so many opportunities to change the story’s direction that you’ll want to try other paths on additional playthroughs. At journey’s end, the game gives you a password that can be used to continue on into the next app with your same weapons and items.

As nice as the app looks (it’s packed with original art from the books!), and despite all the appropriately florid dialogue, “Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!” does have a few pitfalls. You’re restricted on what magic spells you can use without any clear explanation as to why, and jumping between the spellbook and the spell casting screen is inconvenient. The app does not support Apple’s Game Center, which is a big disappointment when you consider how many fun Achievements could be tied to various hard-to-find sidequests and encounters.

This review is based upon product supplied by the publisher. Image courtesy Inkle.