Saturday, 3 November 2018

Review: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (Switch)

Fighting Fantasy is back in the wider public consciousness, with Scholastic taking over publishing duties for the book series and several video game outfits producing new ways to experience classic gamebooks. Tin Man Games have spearheaded this gamebook revolution, first with their own Gamebook Adventures series and then snagging the Fighting Fantasy license. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is the latest reimagining, taking a leaf out of Inkle's Sorcery adaptation and presenting things from an isometric perspective. It's essentially a tabletop RPG with the paragraphs and choices you'd find in Fighting Fantasy.

The game switches things up when it comes to character creation. Rather than rolling a character, you pick from a series of miniatures, each with its own stats, backstory and attacks. Let's unpack this, because there's some clever stuff happening.

Each character has a reason for heading to Firetop Mountain, whether it's to avenge their brother's death or simply to fleece the old magic-fingered fool out of all his cash. They will also gain a sub quest attached to this. In one, you have to steal a gem from a Cyclops eye to aid your quest, and in another you have to feed blood to a demon statue. In addition, denizens of Firetop Mountain will react to certain characters in different ways and new events can be experienced depending who you're playing as. Similarly, some characters have skills that unlock new options. Those with eagle eyes may be able to spot something to avoid a fight that would be compulsory for others. This means that while Firetop Mountain doesn't change on each playthrough, your experiences will, which is a fantastic way of getting replay value. The Switch version comes with the Goblin Scourge expansion, adding several new characters to the mix.

Combat has been spiced up from the usual FF roll-off. Now you're given a dungeon tabletop complete with miniatures who tactically battle it out. Characters and enemies have chess-like attacks, affecting certain squares around them. Attacking at the right time gets you automatic damage, while if you attack an enemy while they attack you it becomes the classic roll-off, taking Skill into account. It's nice and simple, but adds some depth to combat. It's fun to see how certain enemies will attack and move around the board, but you'll grok things easily after a few rounds. Murdering monsters nets you would, which can be used to buy new, better characters, though nobody seems completely overpowered.

One of the wonderful things about the original book was Russ Nicholson's art. While this still features, they have been coloured, which really detracts from the original detailed line art. It's a bit of a let down - Nicholson's art was created to be black and white and the colour versions simply don't look as good. At least they didn't use the FF art from the Scholastic line.

Due to the blend of interactive fiction and graphical RPG, movement can occasionally be a slog, especially when you're navigating one of the mazes. Still, the idea of presenting it as a tabletop game is a nice one.

Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a splendid reimagining of the classic book. While the game won't take long to complete with a character, there's a tonne of replay value. There's also a gauntlet mode which is just combat to see how long you can last. The souls gained here all count toward unlocking new characters, which is great if you don't feel like running through the story over and over again. I do have issues with the art, but visually the rest of the game is pleasing. In the end, chalk up another triumph for Tin Man Games.