Whoever wears the Crown of Kings has the ability to influence others, which naturally makes it a very dangerous artifact. Unfortunately, it has fallen into the hands of an evil archmage who is wasting no time using it to amass an army. Sending in an army to stop him is not an option, which is why one brave adventurer must make the dangerous trek alone. You are that brave adventurer who must make the long journey through an unforgiving land to retrieve the crown and save the day.
If the story sounds a little clichéd it might be because it was written way back in 1983. The tale was penned by Steve Jackson, whose Fighting Fantasy series of novels turned many readers, myself included, into ardent RPG fans. The Shamutanti Hills is the first of four tales and it has been expertly adapted into a role playing game by Inkle.
The game stays true to the original book, but provides you with a beautifully illustrated 3D map on which to maneuver your adventurer. You simply tap and drag your character, who can be male or female by the way, to points of interest and then read as the story unfolds. The tale is every bit as compelling as it was more than three decades ago and at virtually every turn you are required to make decisions. These range from choosing which path to take to what missions to complete or who to trust and your choices influence how the story plays out. Since it is based on a book there is quite a bit of reading, but the way that the story adepts to your choices is done really well. It also feels like the game features way more choices than a typical Fighting Fantasy novel, which also provides it with plenty of replay value.
Of course, no perilous journey would be complete without villains along the way and in this game you will encounter your fair share of scoundrels. From monsters to assassins, danger lurks around every turn and you will have to engage in combat if you want to complete your quest. The combat in this game is handled in a very unique manner as it doesn’t rely on the typical dice throw system as seen in the Tin Man Games gamebooks, which are also based on Fighting Fantasy novels. Instead you and your assailant are shown on opposite sides of the screen and you have to drag your character into position. Keeping your character all the way to the left is considered defensive, but the further to the right he or she is moved the more powerful the attack. Damage is dealt based on who made the biggest attack, so if you performed a lunge and your opponent only a jab they will take damage. Since you don’t know what type of attack your opponent will make it feels a bit like playing a game of rock-paper-scissors. You can’t keep performing powerful attacks either as your character will become too tired, so you have to plan each move strategically. It is a neat system and if you do fail spectacularly you can always retry a battle, just like the books.
Apart from sticking the business end of your sword into enemies you can also use spells to get you out of trouble. As with the combat, the spell system is quite unique and requires you to combine three letters in order to perform a spell. For example, “ZAP” will cause you to shoot a lightning bolt while “HOT” launches a fireball. There is a bewildering array of spells on offer, all viewable in your spell book, but they cost energy to cast and some also requires special focus items. I really enjoyed the spell system and was constantly surprised by how well the story adapted to my choices. From casting a confusion spell on an enemy which made them more clumsy in battle to casting a grow spell on my own character to help them complete a side mission faster, there was always something cool to try out. At one point I even managed to charm a bunch of snakes into making a ladder, which allowed me to use them to climb out of a pit instead of fighting them!
Visually the game looks as good as you would expect from something that stays true to the book. The overhead map, which can be zoomed in and out, was done by Mike Schley from Wizard of the Coast, while the game also includes the original illustrations by John Blanche. The new character art was done by Eddie Sharam of DC Comics fame and fits in nicely with the older stuff. Even the pages on which the text is displayed look great thanks to the “stitching” effect which is used. The game can be played in either landscape or portrait mode, but the latter is recommended for the best view of the illustrations. The spell casting, which takes on a separate screen also looks great thanks to the way you choose individual letters from the sky.
The audio is equally impressive and while the music is rather sparse the sound effects more than make up for this. Everything from the wind howling through the trees to people chatting and dogs barking in the towns all contribute to making the game feel more alive. There isn’t any speech or narration, so if you really dread reading then this is probably not the game for you. The touch controls work well and I never had any troubles moving my character on the map or making selections.
Sorcery is a thoroughly enjoyable title with only its short length counting against it. Since it is the first part of a four part adventure it also ends rather abruptly. The game is very replayable though and even after two tries there were still avenues that I haven’t explored. The game even allows you to rewind as far back as you want thanks to the marked spots on the map, but beware as you cannot jump ahead in the story again. After completing the adventure you can save your game and you are given a spell name to enter at the start of Part 2 in order to continue the story with your gold and items intact.
If you have fond memories of the original books then you will love this polished and well-presented game adaptation. If you have never experienced the original books, but love fantasy and role playing you are in for a treat as well. Apart from the length there is very little that I can fault about this game as it stays true to its source material while also making full use of its new medium.