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Review: Sorcery! Parts 1-4

Sorcery! is a text adventure-style RPG that leads you through a variety of locations on your quest to find "The Crown". With hand-drawn models and maps, and more narrative options than you can wrap your head around, it offers a gripping tale that feels totally unique with each playthrough. The game is also available on iOS and Android.

Sorcery! Parts 1-4 Review

Introduction

Developed and published by inkle Ltd, Sorcery! takes you on an epic journey as you fight monsters, save damsels in distress, or do neither. Every encounter has a variety of options for how to proceed, or indeed to refuse to help entirely as you brush past disdainfully. It's very reminiscent of the choose-your-own-adventure books, only you don't have to have a pencil and paper with you; always a bonus, I'm sure you'll agree. Much of the narrative content feels a little 'generic fantasy', but there's nothing wrong with building on an already strong foundation, and Sorcery!'s content is intuitive and honed to perfection. Almost.

It is available on Steam for £16.77 for the full game, or £6.99 for each part.

Map screen in Steve Jackson's Sorcery!

Story

The first choice you make is whether to be a male or female hero, each represented by a paper cutout-style avatar. After some brief contextual information scrolls past your screen, you awake in a hut and are immediately treated to a combat tutorial, after which you begin your journey to find the crown. From there, almost immediately, you are treated to various story-altering choices that range from which path to take at a junction, to whether to enter a town or skirt round the edge, to whether to save a village chief's kidnapped daughter or fight him to the death and strip his corpse for supplies. All of these options make it feel as though you are truly forging a unique tale. "But," the game is quick to tell you, "no decision is permanent", as you have the ability at any point to rewind the story as far back as you like and alter your choices. This is a feature I was very grateful for; with the many instant-death scenarios, it's nice not to have to restart from the beginning each time you die.

All of the description in the text is very vivid, but nothing is left to inference. After describing the shabby clothes and dilapidated buildings in a settlement, it will say something like "Everyone here is clearly very poor." Yes, I can tell that for myself, Steve, give me some credit. There are also quite a few spelling and grammar mistakes, but I'm sure this won't annoy anyone other than me (seriously, though, is it that hard to proof read?), but none of this detracts from the excellent and enthralling description in any significant way. Each chapter continues the same story, and you can either play them individually, or import your save to the next one and retain all your equipment and choices.

Steve Jackson's Sorcery! gives you multiple options and choices

gameplay

As Sorcery! is heavily narrative-driven, gameplay is fairly simple, with most of it coming down to moving your character's sprite on to the next encounter by the sophisticated method of clicking and dragging. There are a few diversions from this in the form of various minigames, such as a dice game. Often, however, dialogue between you and another character will continue during these minigames, which does a good job of making them feel relevant to your journey. Combat also takes the form of one of these minigames, but I feel it deserves special mention, and I shall now explain why.

The actual minigame itself is very simple: you pick a number, your opponent picks a number, whoever picks the lowest number receives damage, and the maximum number available to you decreases more the higher your previous number was. Video game combat reduced to its most basic form. However, each turn, text appears at the top of the screen, in the same format as the story encounters throughout the game, describing what is going on, and they are all unique to each individual fight. They also change depending on who one that round, and how long the fight has been going on for. For example, if your number is only slightly higher than your opponent's, you might see one that says something like "You kick off the wall of the cave and strike the wolf with your sword, but it just escapes your swing in time to avoid too serious an injury. But it seems to be growing weaker. It watches you carefully, blood soaking its fur." There must be thousands of combinations throughout the different fights, and all are accounted for, accompanied by more delightful description.

Hand drawn illustrations in Steve Jackson's Sorcery!

Sound and visuals

Everything you see in the game has been hand drawn, from the map, to character sprites in combat. If you encounter an enemy of some kind, there is also often a drawing of the scene, which is a nice touch. I mean I went out of my way to get a copy of The Hobbit that had pictures in it; its just very nice to have them there.

There isn't much in the way of music after the introductory cutscene, but throughout the game there is ambient sound wherever you are, such as chatter in a bustling town square, or bird song and the rustling of leaves in a forest. This is a superb way to help the player build a mental image of the scene. Ambient sound is vitally important, and overlooked too often.

verdict

When I was first given this game for review, I was more than a little apprehensive. I haven't played many text adventures, and certainly not for several years, and I didn't think I'd be able to give it a fair assessment without being a fan of the genre. I have to say, however, that Sorcery! has absolutely won me over. In fact, I'm going to play it some more once I've finished writing this. Well done, Steve, give yourself a pat on the back.

ProsCons
 + Vast variety of story-altering choices – Nothing is left for the player to infer
 + Vivid description and atmosphere – Frequent spelling and grammar errors
 + Simple yet effective gameplay mechanics
8
Great

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