Adventure gamebooks, like the Fighting Fantasy and Choose Your Own Adventure series, were popular pastimes for children and young adults in the '80s and '90s, transporting readers into fantasy realms, pulp fiction scenarios and sci-fi universes. The genre is experiencing something of a mobile revival, with publishers such as Tin Man Games, Inkle and Choice of Games delivering everything from classic gamebook fun to more experimental interactive fiction apps that play around with the possibilities of the digital medium. Check out 10 of our favorite mobile gamebooks below.
Imagine William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" as a choose-your-path gamebook app, and you get Ryan North's To Be or Not To Be, which has you playing the part of Hamlet, Ophelia or Hamlet Senior on their insane adventures. Powered by Tin Man Games' Gamebook Adventures engine, the app takes full advantage of the digital format by accompanying the text with music, sound effects, hilarious achievements and an end-game "Haml-o-Meter" and a statistics page that compares your choices with the Bard's. A particular delight is the wealth of illustrations by a variety of Web comic greats such as Kate Beaton (Hark, A Vagrant), Zach Weinersmith (SMBC), and Matthew Inman (Oatmeal). Incredibly hilarious and brilliantly executed, "To Be or Not To Be" is a great addition to your app drawer. Fans of the gamebook take note: Ryan North has also just released a new choose your path book, "Romeo and/or Juliet" about a certain pair of star-crossed lovers. Here's hoping it also gets an app release.
Another lighthearted gamebook from Tin Man Games, Trial of the Clone delivers a humorous pastiche of space opera stories. Readers take on the role of an unwanted clone, raised by the mysterious Silene Monks, who is out to explore the universe and become a hero — or die horribly. With a script written by Zach Wienersmith of Sunday Morning Breakfast Cereal and voiceovers by Wil Wheaton, Trial of the Clone delivers much hilarity, while operating with the tried and true Gamebook Adventures engine.
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Choices: And The Sun Went Out is an interesting change in Tin Man Games' usual gamebook format. Instead of delivering a complete interactive story in a single package that you can read through in one go, Choices presents its content in an episodic format, with new content unlocked every week. It's also a free app, with players getting a limited number of "choice tokens" to make choices in the story; players can also subscribe to the app to get unlimited choices for their playthrough. The first story is an adventure tale in a near future world where the sun mysteriously vanishes and reappears. Readers must investigate the mystery surrounding the disappearing sun and the murders of scientists studying the phenomenon. The first story arc has already been completed, and Tin Man Games is turning the Choices app into a hub for more episodic content, with a new story arriving in fall 2016.
In Steve Jackson's Sorcery!, players take on an epic quest to recover the Crown of Kings stolen by an evil wizard. Sorcery stays true to its "choose your path" roots, but Inkle cleverly renders many of your choices, as well as presenting combat minigames in an animated format. Bookmarks allow you to step back at any point in the story to try other forks in the road, and the app even saves your progress so that if you finish the game, you can import your character (complete with gold, items and other game information) into later installments of the series, such as, Sorcery! 2: Khare, the City of Traps (Android, iOS), and the just launched Sorcery! 3: The Seven Serpents (Android, iOS). The story is set to come to an epic conclusion with the release of the last episode in the series, Sorcery 4, later in 2016.
Inkle gets even more experimental with its next piece of interactive fiction: 80 Days, based on Jules Verne's classic "Around The World in 80 Days". As the loyal valet Passepartout, you accompany your master Phileas Fogg in his globe-trotting journey through a steampunk Earth filled with automata, Artificers and airships. Players must race through the world's great cities, discovering new routes and stumbling across mysteries while exploring each city through a "choose your path" interface. Discover the fastest routes, balance your finances, pack the right inventory in your limited luggage space, and maybe, you just might win Fogg's epic wager and circumnavigate the world in 80 days.
Yarn - Interactive Fiction (iOS) (Free)
Rather than deliver a single interactive story, Yarn serves as a hub app, like a Kindle for interactive fiction. Users can browse the app's library and download any of a number of interactive fiction pieces from a variety of authors. From a tale about rescuing a pig from slaughter by a foodie joint to a story of a far future hacker in dire need of a highly customizable sauna experience, Yarn has an eclectic selection of short interactive fiction pieces. Yarn's engine presents players with familiar choice-based branching, while also adding in illustrations and sound effects to take advantage of the digital format. Only just launched on iOS, Yarn's selection is still growing, and should be coming soon to Android as well.
Redemption Season marks the start of a new arc in Zachary Sergei's Hero Project series of choose your path games, with players taking on the role of a contestant in a reality show about superpowered heroes. Choice of Games's many titles might not have the same audiovisual thrills as those of other app publishers, but they make up for it with a focus on rich and varied writing, as well as a handy stats tracker system that makes it easy for players to track how their choices affect a story and its varied characters. If this one tickles your fancy, you might want to check out earlier titles in the series such as Heroes Rise, The Hero Project, and HeroFall.
Crack big cases like who stole your best friend's bicycle, face down bullies, and maybe, just maybe, get a date for the big school dance in Sixth Grade Detective, a young adult choose-your-path novel by Laura Hughes. Another example of Choice of Games' rich selection of content, Sixth Grade Detective does away with superpowered conflict and adult themes for a more grounded story about coming of age, friendship, petty crime and cheeky sixth grade consulting detectives.
For something more mystical, check out Lynnea Glasser's The Sea Eternal. Far under the waves, the whales have given the merfolk the gift of immortality. All they want in return is protection and aid in the whales' struggle against the giant squid. When a young renegade tries to destroy the secret to immortality, all this is thrown in chaos. What will you give up for life eternal? Or will you be willing to turn away from immortality for a higher cause?
From high fantasy allegory to urban arcana and grit, we come to Deathless: The City's Thirst written by award-winning author Max Gladstone. With the God Wars over and the rain god dead, it's up to you as an agent of supernatural firm Red King Incorporated to somehow find a way to make it rain. Set in the same universe as Gladstone's Craft Sequence and Choice of the Deathless (Android, iOS), The City's Thirst is a many-layered supernatural thriller that sees you pitting your wits against mundane and supernatural forces, from sorcerers to real estate moguls, magical scorpions, to people just trying to get by in a dry and dusty world. Featuring a customizable character creation system and an evocatively written story of more than 150,000 words, Deathless: The City's Thirst is a thrilling read.