Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! Part 1 & 2 Review

These two games, despite their somewhat short gameplay lifespan, took me an incredibly long amount of time to compose a review. That’s a compliment.

First, I need to clarify. I’ve condensed the review for Sorcery! Part 1 and Part 2 together, for one important reason: the foundations for the two are so similar that if you like the first Sorcery!, there is a 99 percent change you will enjoy the second one. Sorcery! Part 2 is an extension of Sorcery! Part 1 in terms of story, abilities, mini games, events, and most notably, size. The experience is so similar that enjoyment of the first game will almost certainly – almost, almost certainly – lead to enjoyment of the second game. You can only go up.

But if you’ve never played Sorcery! Part 1 or 2? Read on.

map_buildingsSorcery! Part 1 and 2 by Inkle are monuments to creator passion. They’re unrepentantly flashy, showy, and lovingly crafted. They aren’t the easiest to get into, and I’m a bit worried about the whole premise on what’s supposed to be a highly casual platform, but if you’re looking for a game that encapsulates everything wonderful about old game books, you can’t go wrong with Sorcery! Part 1 and 2.

The games are structured as a story, with everything else being visual indicators that only lightly uses the touch capabilities of the iPhone. When I mean story, I mean this literally: text is the central means of communication between the player and the medium, and everything you do will be followed by small blurbs of text that describe your actions, your journey, your status, and what you have faced and hope to face.

Allow me to repeat that: this game is less of a casual iPhone game in the vein of Angry Birds, Candy Crush, or Real Racing. This is not a visual assault on the senses, a gyroscopic dazzle, or a physics-based puzzle. This is a game that wraps a thick layer of tea-stained backdrop around a gargantuan tome of text, and if you’re not someone who enjoys reading on a regular basis, you won’t like Sorcery! 1 or 2. Its combat mechanics, its mini games, and its unique visuals just aren’t powerful enough for it to substitute for the text, which is the make or break component of the game.

However, if you do like reading, then there’s actually very little I can criticise about Sorcery! Part 1 and Part 2. It’s an astoundingly well written piece of immersion, it’s unrelenting in its attempts to pull you into its world, and the way it creates tension, fear, worry, excitement, and anticipation is something you don’t experience very often in iOS games. As you go about the journey, you’re beset by wild animals, odd and bewildering races, hostile weather and terrain, and a host of other dangerous yet intriguing components all strengthened by its phenomenal imagery. It doesn’t shy away from telling you about the shadows that lurk by the rivers, the rustle of the tall fields, or the sound of hushed murmurs behind closed doors. It’s just that detailed.

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Frequently, you’ll be given pictures, all of them drawn in black and white with a very Doréan feel. Everything is odd and gangly, twisted and snarling, with thick black lines etched into the wrinkles of their skin. There’s nothing cutesy about the world of Sorcery! – it’s all muck and grime. Scumbags and distrust populate the world with equal frequency.

Combat is incredibly simplistic. For physical combat, you swipe to attack, and you tap ‘Defend’ to defend. Each move consumes Stamina, which functions as your health. Each swipe generates a value based upon the strength of your swipe, meaning your attacks are determined by the strength of the swipe on your phone. If you swipe too hard, you risk expending a considerable amount of stamina, especially if your attack value was lower than the opponent’s. Efficient combat is all about maximizing damage when the opponent is caught unaware or weak and minimizing damage when you’re dealing damage yourself.

To be honest, it’s not a very fun system. The combat is incredibly dull, and though Sorcery! does describe what a lot of the attacks coming up are going to be, there have been multiple moments where I’ve been tricked. For instance, in the first game I was told that the tutorial boss was going to go for a heavy swing, so I decided to defend. Instead, he went for a weak jab, meaning that I could have done more damage for less Stamina.

Detractors may argue that this means it’s another layer of thought processed into the game, but I’m not really compelled by the idea of a willfully lying narrator in the combat system. It’s just inefficient and doesn’t make full use of the text.

However, if you don’t like combat, you also have the option of casting spells through tapping a spherical constellation of letters to form words or a proper string. For instance, tapping Z, A, and P in the constellation lets you use the lightning spell. Sometimes this is helpful, especially if you’re not fond of the combat system. However, the spell system consumes a variety of supplies from your character (depending on the spell), so you need to be economical with your casting.

Therefore, Sorcery! Part 1 and Part 2 are very much adventurer warrior type games. If the lack of character types are any clear indicator, you’re set to travel into this sizable world, but only with a single character class. If I had a major gripe with Sorcery!, then it would be this lack of player agency in character creation, in both backstory and design.

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Inkle is very much in love with the world, that much is certain. It absolutely adores the world. But herein lies the problem – while it brazenly gives you a character and then indirectly says, “go explore the sandbox we made”, it doesn’t do a good job describing the plot. It weaves in little details as to what the Crown of Kings does, what it’s for, and who cares about it, but it doesn’t tell me much about the person I am playing as.

Neither Sorcery! Part 1 or 2 give me any information as to what I am like before the whole adventure, and while I could create some semblance of a personality through my choices in dialogue, that doesn’t provide me with a clear understanding of motivation or drive. The plot seems to be a lazy excuse for Inkle to reveal the world they so lovingly crafted, like some sort of interactive and highly complex tour guide of a fictional country. It spends so much time creating this beautiful experience out in the unrelenting wilderness and through the dark alleys of Kharé that it doesn’t seem to care that your character lacks a meaty backstory.

While this may seem inconsequential, the problem is that for a game whose fulcrum of enjoyment is the story, having a small yet noticeable vacuum in its writing magnifies its negatives. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a very well written story, and its masterfully penned, but it’s not very well plotted. It’s a simplistic, unassuming, wayside-prone tale that’s engorged itself on detail and spews description at every corner.

But is that bad? No, not really. It’s a preference thing, and if you’re fine with a blank protagonist in a rich world, then you’ll love Sorcery! and its sequel regardless. In the end, Sorcery! Part 1 is an enthralling and wonderfully spun tale of a far-off world in a land of way too many pronouns, ensnaring readers like a siren’s call. Sorcery! Part 2 has the same simple premise, but delivers more of it. It doesn’t radically change anything, and adds more detail, more enemies, more filth, more everything. It’s just more of it, and if you want to see what happens to the adventurer and the Crown of Kings, then you’d best continue your tale, stranger.

4.5stars

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