These Gamebook Apps Follow a Winning Path
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 has undergone 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 15 of our favorite mobile gamebooks. (Image Credit: Raiwin Mannak/Shutterstock)
Sorcery! Series (Android, iOS: $4.99/episode)
One of the best gamebook app series in recent memory is also an excellent revival of one of the best paperback gamebook series. Steve Jackson's Sorcery series received a brilliant digital reimagining at the hands of Inkle, staying true to Sorcery's "choose your path" style adventures while also improving the presentation with combat minigames and a detailed map that shows the path and choices you make on the quest to restore the Crown of Kings. Cross-episode saves let you bring your character forward into the game's later episodes, and the entire saga is now complete, letting you explore the full story from Sorcery!: The Shamutanti Hills (Android, iOS), to Khare, the City of Traps (Android, iOS), The Seven Serpents (Android, iOS), and the penultimate episode, The Crown of Kings (Android, iOS)
80 Days (Android, iOS: $4.99)
Inkle gets even more experimental with its next piece of interactive fiction: 80 Days (Android, iOS), 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.
Ryan North's To Be or Not To Be (Android: $4.99)
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" featuring 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 library. 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.
Trial of the Clone (Android: $1.99)
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.
Choices That Matter (Android, iOS: Free)
Choices That Matter (Android, iOS) 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 arc, And The Sun Went Out, explores a near future where the sun has mysteriously gone out, while the second, And Their Souls Were Eaten, is a journey through a steampunk Europe of high tech and high magic, with a new story (And Their Heroes Were Lost) currently ongoing.
Hero Project: Redemption Season (Android, iOS: $4.99)
Redemption Season (Android, iOS) 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 super-powered heroes. Choice of Games's many titles might not have the same audiovisual thrills as those of other app publishers, but the company makes 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.
Sixth Grade Detective (Android, iOS: $3.99)
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 (Android, iOS), 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 super-powered conflict and adult themes for a more grounded story about coming of age, friendship, petty crime and cheeky sixth grade consulting detectives.
Deathless: The City's Thirst (Android, iOS: $3.99)
Enter a world of magic-punk urban arcana with Deathless: The City's Thirst by 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.
Welcome to Moreytown (Android, iOS: $3.99)
We round things out with one of Choice of Games' latest releases, Welcome to Moreytown (Android, iOS) by S. Andrew Swann. You play a moreau, a human-animal hybrid left over from the last war and holed up in a ghetto called Moreytown. Life in Moreytown isn't easy, but lately, things have come to a head with mysterious fires, explosions, and an escalation in gang conflicts, and it's up to you to figure out what's going on and how to stop it. Welcome to Moreytown a variety of paths and endings that can have you working with the good guys, taking over the gangs, or even running your own cult to keep your people safe.
Warlock of Firetop Mountain (iOS: $4.99))
Another gamebook classic returns in the form of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, combining elements of choose-your-path adventures with more traditional RPG elements. Originally published in 1982, this gamebook got a new lease on life with a successful Kickstarter campaign in late 2015 for a digitally reimagined version. The game retains the original's branching choose-your-path style, but with CGI embellishments and additions such as 3D environments and a more detailed combat game complete with a tactical map and CG-rendered characters. The game comes with four characters, each with their own abilities; more are available as optional in-app purchases.
The Frankenstein Wars (Android, iOS: $3.99)
Cubus Games has made a name for itself with gamebook apps like the science fiction epics Heavy Metal Thunder and Sol Invictus. This time, it trades the blasters for black powder in its alternate history tale The Frankenstein Wars (Android, iOS). In an alternate Earth, brothers Tom and Anton Clerval guard the secret of Victor Frankenstein's resurrection technology, but as war sweeps through revolutionary France, the radical Zeroiste movement attempts to put this reanimation technology to nefarious purposes. Players decide the fate of the brothers Clerval, navigating the tides of revolution while encountering historical figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Ada Lovelace.
Fallen London (Android, iOS: Free)
Originally released as a free to play browser-based game in 2009, Failbetter Games' Fallen London has now made the jump to mobile devices, with native apps now available on Android and iOS. Fallen London stretches the limit of what we can call a gamebook app, playing more like a sprawling, interactive fiction labyrinth as players explore a subterranean London and its many wonders and terrors. As a free-to-play game, Fallen London limits the choices you can take each day by rationing actions, but the game itself has a rich amount of content available, and if you really want to blaze through, then you can make in-app purchases for extra actions, as well as content unlocks.
Lifeline Library (Android, iOS: Free)
Lifeline (Android, iOS) pioneered a new genre of slow-burn narrative adventure games designed to be played over time, rather than in one quick go, and the Lifeline Library app (Android, iOS) functions as a hub for accessing the many Lifeline adventure games that 3 Minute Games has released. The Library app includes a number of free games, such as the direct sequel to the first game, Lifeline: Silent Night, as well as Lifeline: Whiteout. It's a very different, slower-paced style of interactive fiction, but the Lifeline series has a neat, bite-sized charm that doesn't skimp on the storytelling.
Crusader Kings: Chronicles (Android, iOS: $4.99)
Paradox Interactive's Crusader Kings games are sprawling dynasty simulator grand strategy games. The masters of PC grand strategy have taken a decidedly mre micro approach in their mobile tie-in Crusader Kings: Chronicles (Android, iOS), an interactive fiction app that zooms in on the fate of one character, young nobleman Guy de Rose in the dangerous borderlands between Britain and Scotland. Your choices will shape the fate of young Guy as you face enemies within and without, and you'll need battlefield and political savvy to survive, and possibly thrive in the cutthroat world of medieval nobility.
Yarn (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.