Choose your own adventure, a genre of gaming seemingly lost to time, is making strides towards resurrection with the help of smart phones and tablets. Choose your own adventure (CYOA) games were novels at their core, but with a degree of control given to the reader that ultimately transformed the story into a game. The ability to make decisions for the protagonist and alter the storyline yourself was a hit and became a genre of both gaming and literature that remained in the mainstream for nearly 20 years. But, as with all popular trends, it lost steam in the 90’s before appearing completely dead by the 2000’s. Fans of the genre ask is there a way to bring these relics into the 21st century? Mobile developers think so. In the last two years a slew of CYOA games have been released for mobile devices, with names like Joe Deever and Steve Jackson in the vanguard. Steve Jackson’s latest affair, Sorcery!, does a wonderful job of replicating the old CYOA feel, but does little to distinguish it as digital media.
Simply put, CYOA books, along with games like Dungeons and Dragons, helped lay the foundation for gaming narrative and modern RPGs. Back before complex physics and realistic graphics were possible, gamers had CYOA books. They combined the detail and lengthy narrative of Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels with multiple choice, giving the reader a degree of control over the story’s protagonist. Steve Jackson, the co-founder of Lionhead Studios, was an author of such books. His love for the genre inspired him to create Sorcery!.
You play as an unnamed character, a traveler with magical powers who leaves his home in search of an ancient artifact: “The Crown of Kings”. It’s pretty hammy. The character names sound farfetched and cheesy and your magical powers are uninspired. With names like ZAP for lightning powers and LAW for mind control, it feels kind of lame.
When I first downloaded the game, I was really excited for a sort of tongue-in-cheek, snarky satire that was as fun to play as it was clever. Sorcery!, despite its deceptively cheeky title, is pretty much just a digital copy of an 80’s fantasy novel. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you’re a fantasy lover looking for nostalgia with a fair amount of whimsy, Sorcery! might be right up your alley, but for me it’s a game with unrealized potential.
Be prepared for a lot of reading. When I say this game is a digital copy of an 80’s fantasy novel, I’m not exaggerating. In between events there are significant sections of text that are extremely important to the development of your quest. There is no interactive environment, no visual changes in scenery. Everything that happens to the character happens in text form, so you have to always read to know what’s going on. The writing itself, however, is pretty good. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s about as interesting and engaging as you might expect from a fantasy novel. There is enough fantastical whimsy to keep my attention, to get me to want to see what happens next, but there is rarely a worthwhile payoff. There is no character development, no context for the adventure. It could work with exceptional writing, and this game is far from exceptional. The reader needs a reason to care about the story, so with better character development and interesting context for the quest this game could be pretty good. Unfortunately, it falls short in that regard too.
The worst part of the game is easily the fight sequences. Every once in a while you are going to encounter an enemy who you have to fight. It’s pretty standard combat – you have a stamina and strength bar. The harder/longer you swipe the stronger your attacks, and if you run out of stamina you die. Pretty boring stuff. It’s made even worse by the character designs. Your character and your enemy are just paper cut-outs of the before-mentioned illustrations. Jackson really should’ve taken a cue from last Year’s CYOA remake of Joe Deever’s Lone Wolf, which with its high end graphics and visceral battles, earned itself a hardcore score of 4.0. Sorcery!, on the other hand, is just not visually stimulating and in the end is too simple to really be any fun.
Because of my love of games is invested heavily in strong and interesting narrative, I really want to like Sorcery!. It doesn’t get more narrative-driven than a gamefied novel, but I’m really just not impressed. If Steve Jackson’s goal was to turn a CYOA novel into a video game, he really missed the boat and could have saved a ton of money by just publishing his old novels on Kindle. It would have yielded similar results.
I don’t hate the game, parts of it were fun and interesting, but there is no real gameplay – you swipe your fingers every once in a while and play multiple choice. A player needs to feel as though the character is an extension of him. You just don’t get that with Sorcery!. This is just part one of four, so I would keep an eye on this series because it does have potential. But if you aren’t a fan of fantasy novels, probably best to stay away from this one.
Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! promises to bring CYOA back with a bang, but fails to realize its full potential.