The Apple iPad has helped revive a few of the older styles of games. The platform is perfect for board games, for instance – a genre that otherwise struggles to compete on the major consoles. Another is gamebooks.
Gamebooks were especially popular back in the 80s. Essentially they were Choose Your Own Adventure type books – you’d read a passage and it would provide you with a handful of possible actions. By picking one you’d be directed to jump over to a new page where the story would continue. RPG gamebooks added dice and combat to that formula, and were essentially mini RPGs designed for one person.
|Dare you descend into the pits?|
Of course, as video games took off, Gamebooks lost a bit of relevancy – after all now it was possible to play single player RPGs, with animation and graphics and all that fancy stuff. But in recent years, the genre has made something of a comeback. The legendary Fighting Fantasy series is being reprinted, Lone Wolf (this writer’s personal favourite) is still available, and thanks to the capabilities of the iPad as an eReader, we’re seeing new gamebooks released on the App store.
Melbourne based developer, Tin Man Games, has a series of six of these books currently available. The most recent one, The Wizard from Tarnath Tor, is a great deal of fun.
|Dice and books… an awesome combination|
Starting with the presentation, then, Tin Man Games checks all the boxes with style. From the faux-old paper background, to some stunning bits of retro-style gamebook art and a clean page turning animation, this adventure oozes atmosphere. It also helps that there’s a haunting soundtrack to accompany the visuals. Tarnath Tor’s fantasy is a dark one, but thankfully the developers haven’t neglected usability – there are three text size settings and three different fonts to make sure the book’s readability remains high for everyone.
It’s also worth noting that the game can be played in landscape or portrait mode, depending on which is comfortable or you.
|Combat isn’t exactly action-packed, but it looks great|
Also critical is the dice rolling animation, because there is a lot of combat in this game, and here too, Tin Man Games have things right. The dice look and sound like real dice, and while the animation for each roll is on the slow side, it’s possible for the impatient to turn it off.
In terms of the story, it’s standard pulp fantasy fare – delving into dungeons, slaying one dimensional enemies and looting treasure. This is part and parcel with the gamebook genre, and it’s a lot of fun, but anyone looking for character and personalities is in the wrong place.
|Some of the art in the game is stunning, and straight out of the 1980’s RPG era|
The combat, too, is one note – the better the weapon and armour you wear, the more dice you roll to attack and defend. You want to roll higher than your opponent. There’s no level-ups (though the equipment you gain can be a kind of power creep forward), there’s no character customization. Gamebooks were always designed to be simple, and this one fits the type.
Thanks to the stellar production values, Tarnath Tor succeeds, and sits at the top of the iPad gamebook pile. And, after the hugely disappointing ports of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Big Blue Bubble, it’s nice to see another developer go all out to give those of us with fond childhood memories of these unique games something with real effort behind it.