In the mid-80s, Steve Jackson released an adventure book series titled Sorcery!. It was basically Choose Your Own Adventure, but with a focus on exploration and combat over ridiculous death scenarios (I’m looking at you, Daredevil Park). Now, UK studio inkle has brought this series to iOS devices. Guess what? It’s a perfect fit.
Sorcery! sticks very close to its source material: journeying across the game’s huge map and making both dialogue and interaction choices feels exactly like the style of the book series. But where readers had to keep a thumb on the page where they made a decision should they go back to change it, the iOS port sports an easy rewind option. This doesn’t mean you’ll have a magic “undo” button, though: you’ll find yourself held captive by elves or arguing over bridge tolls regardless of what you choose.
In Sorcery!, moving form scenario to scenario plays out on a massive, topographical map. You’ll have points of interest to tap and move to, and these are often crossroad choices: choose one, and the other disappears. Scenarios play out just as you would want them to: encounters with bandits, walks through desolate villages, and arguments with opposing soldiers. When these scenarios occur, you are presented with a paragraph or two of second-person narrative text, again adding to the storybook feel of the original Sorcery! To add even more, these scenarios can evolve into large-scale arguments with branching dialogue choices or combat situations.
Even the combat of Sorcery! feels like the books, and not just because these are also narrated with text. Combat follows a wager system: both you and your opponent have energy meters. You can choose to defend, which means taking only minimal damage, or wagering your energy in an attack. You can wager various amounts of energy for a more powerful attack, but so can your opponent: damage is determined by the difference in your wager. Since you can spend energy faster than you can recover it, this wagering is important. It’s a different, but great combat system that compliments the feel of the overall game. And did I mention that combat is narrated too? I did? Well, the contextual narration of combat is fantastic.
Combat is purely melee-driven, but Sorcery! still has its share of magic. Unfortunately, this is the game’s only weak point. You carry a spellbook which lists available magic in abbreviations. For example, the spell to unlock doors is DOP. To cast this spell, you aim your spellbook at the stars, where several letters swirl in the sky. The spellbook has three holes in it, which you must then line up with the proper three letters to cast the spell. This would be a good mechanic if it worked, but it just doesn’t. The letters never seem to click into the right spot no matter how well you think you’ve lined them up; I spent about ten minutes casting the DOP spell to actually being my adventure, a task I could not pass any other way. Spellcasting could have been a cool implementation in the game if it actually worked.
Staying alive in the world of Sorcery! is a combination of making wise choices in scenarios and healing. Healing can be accomplished in two ways: eating rations and praying to your Spirit. Rations can be bought from any store and consumed like any other item, but the Spirit mechanic is quite interesting. Your dialogue choices affect which Spirit is watching over you, from the elephant to the fox to the baboon, and this changes with nearly every conversation. You can then pray to your Spirit to regain health, but only every once in a while. It’s a neat mechanic, and although different benefits from different Spirits would have been a better design choice, healing is as good a bonus as any.
The Sorcery! books told personal stories of medieval fantasy conquests, and inkle’s iOS port brings that experience to a new generation of children and technology. The storybook feel is here in spades, and the scenarios, dialogue, and combat all stack atop that storytelling base. Spellcasting is lacking, but it’s really the game’s only fault. Maybe some side quests would have been nice, but they would have been icing on an otherwise delicious cake.