Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain review

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It may seem absurd in today’s technologically-minded society, but back in the 1980s video games weren’t the only thing occupying the spare time of young boys the world over.

Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy range of books managed to draw thousands of like-minded kids away from the glare of their television screens and into a world of action, adventure and role-play – all using nothing but a few illustrations, some descriptive writing and a couple of 6-sided dice.

Now the series of books is getting a new lease of life on the iPhone. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is the first official Fighting Fantasy novel (published way back in 1980) so it’s fitting that it’s being used as the basis for the inaugural iPhone instalment. Further episodes are in the works and if this outing is anything to go by, we’re in for a real treat.

To say that this game is essentially the book in digital form wouldn’t be too far from the truth. The text is exactly as it was in the original, right down to the different page numbers you have to turn to as you take your non-linear route through the catacombs of Firetop Mountain.

These page numbers are naturally irrelevant in this version, but they help retain the feel of the book. Even the same drawings are used, although they’ve been digitally coloured to make them even more atmospheric and vibrant.

The best thing about playing such a title on the iPhone is the ability to streamline the experience. With the book, you had to laboriously note down various statistics using pen and paper, but here everything is recorded automatically.

Combat – which is determined by throwing dice – is also much easier as you don’t have to worry about carrying the dice around with you, as was the case with the original book. All of the various stats are worked out automatically and all you have to do is shake your phone to replicate the throwing of the dice. If you’re supremely lazy, you can even bypass this and merely opt for the “tap screen to roll” method.

Finally, this version removes what was possibly the single biggest failing of the original Fighting Fantasy books – the average player’s penchant for dishonesty.

As anyone who has ever experienced this legendary collection of fantasy tomes will you, it was more fun to cheat rather than follow the tiresome rules. Whenever you came to a point where you were given two options – one of which would invariably lead to an untimely death – you could always check both outcomes by flicking ahead and then pick the correct one.

Obviously, such nefarious exploits are impossible with this digital version, so players are forced to stick to the rules. While you might assume this renders The Warlock of Firetop Mountain less enjoyable, it actually makes you wish you’d been a bit more disciplined all those years ago. These adventures are far tenser when you know an unavoidable death may lurk around the next corner, or that your next encounter with a surly Orc may well be your last.

Misty-eyed nostalgia aside, even newcomers will find plenty to like about this game. It may be short on flashy graphics but the narrative is as captivating as it was nearly three decades ago, and even the most steadfast critic of the fantasy role-playing genre will eventually find themselves sucked into this perfectly-formed world.

It’s not an entirely faultless experience though. There are several different routes through the adventure, but once you’ve seen all the rooms and tried every option, there’s little incentive to return. Also, there is one section of this particular outing which involves a maddeningly difficult maze, with the only chance for success being to note down your route on paper – something which other aspects of the game have done so well to avoid.

Still, such grievances do little to dent what is an eminently enjoyable blast from the past. Here’s hoping that this debut title sells well enough to warrant other classic Fighting Fantasy romps in digital form.

Final Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain info

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Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch

Category: RPG

Price: £1.79

Publisher: Big Blue Bubble

Website/Demo: Big Blue Bubble website

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