Remember books? They’re these things with pages that you can hold in your hands and read with your eyes, all to cram little pieces of information into that big old brain! A little while back there was a cry for help from librarians the world over to stop the humble book from dying out due to the rise of their technological counterparts. Well luckily back in 2013, small indie developers Inkle delved into an almost forgotten Steve Jackson, fighting fantasy-style series named Sorcery! Originally published in book format back in 1983, the first instalment ‘The Shamutanti Hills’ placed the reader in the shoes of a warrior/wizard who’s decisions made throughout reading would determine how the adventure story panned out. Here’s how Inkle cast a spell of regeneration on a lost genre and brought it into the 21st century.
As a kid I had a collection of Steve Jackson’s fighting fantasy books, covered in scribbled notes as I thumbed from page to page in a frantic fashion. They were gripping because you became the driving force of the story, feeling the rush of escaping a perturbed warlock and the icy cold grip of death as you were crushed by a frost troll’s big toe. I played Sorcery! Part 1 on iOS and was enchanted by the overall production values, let alone the resurrection of a mysterious and exciting plot line.
Taking on the role of a champion charged with restoring the Crown of Kings to Analand, you find yourself plunged into the harsh lands beyond the safety of the Cantopani Gate. The way the story travels from place to place within this land summons the feeling of a Robin Hobb novel – full of details which seem unremarkable at first, but could prove crucial the deeper into adventure you strive. In this way, Sorcery! keeps you hanging onto every word weaved on-screen. Take heed of this fact as there are tens of thousands of choices to make throughout the Sorcery! series, leaving the player with ultimate responsibility for not just your own safety and wellbeing, but that of those in the world around you! Sorcery! lets us simulate what it might be to act as a good samaritan to a beggar, or how to dispatch some lessons in manners to ruffians at the local inn…
My favourite feature of Sorcery! is the fact that you can take a tome of magic out into the wilderness, but it’s not always as useful as one might imagine. Spells in Sorcery! are made up of three-letter combinations – ZAP for a bolt of lightning and HOT to summon a fireball, are some of the basics. Whilst the spells don’t get more complicated than that, some require you to be in possession of a certain item before casting; such as a goblin’s tooth in order to summon a goblin to fight by your side. When you exercise that grey matter between your ears and scramble to recall a spell that gets you out of a jam, Sorcery! makes you feel like a true warlock of old!
As well as memorising over 50 spells, the player must manage their supply of rations alongside gathering coin to spend on swords, sleep and safe passage (amongst hundreds of other purchasable options). What is endearing about the spell system, is that the onus is on the player to memorise each spell and what they do – sure you can refer to the spell book but in the heat of battle or in a sticky situation the option isn’t always there. It’s a solid plan to remember the spell for flight in case, like me you’re dumb enough to take the quick and risky path everywhere!
I’ve played around 6 hours on the Steam version of Sorcery!, titled Sorcery! Parts 1 & 2, which sees the player cross through the Shamutanti Hills & the city of Kharé. I’ve also logged countless hours on the separate iOS versions of Sorcery! With this in mind it seems fair to say that whilst the resolution for PC is clearly much larger than a mobile device, the way the game plays is the same and in many cases I feel that Sorcery! is best played on a phone or tablet. The touch controls are more intuitive and indicative of this sort of game, rather than a keyboard and mouse. That said I’m not finding that it takes away from the experience at all, which brings me on to my next point – the art style.
Being able to see Sorcery!’s beautiful hand-drawn map and illustrations in 1920×1080 resolution is a welcome boost to the series. Considering you spend most of your time in game viewing the map and plotting your route, it’s essential that this space is presented with detail yet precise execution; something which Inkle have managed to pull off with style and flair. They’ve even rendered an intricately detailed piece of framework to sit on the borders of the map. This tailored feel to the graphical style of Sorcery! provides a subtle reminder to the player of the origins of the series – deep within the musty pages of a faithful old book.
For a game with such immersive storytelling and decision-making, I thought it could perhaps have benefited from a little more background music to add to the sense of grand adventure. Maybe even a little bit of noise from the surrounding environment – such as the sounds of a busy market town or the chirping of crickets in the undergrowth at night. In fact I was quite surprised that this kind of embellishment was left out of the game, as it would have been a nice touch for a heightened sense of immersion.
Sorcery! has captured my imagination, or perhaps I’ve been bewitched by a backfiring spell… Either way I’ve been impressed by the series as a whole and look forward to playing parts 3 and 4, be that on PC or iOS. For those interested you can pick up each part of Sorcery! for £3.99 a piece or the first three parts in a bundle for £9.99 on the App Store. The PC version containing parts 1 and 2 of the series is available on Steam for a measly 6 gold coins and 99 bronze pennies. Be warned though, make your choice a wise one…
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