Beaver, £2.50, ISBN 0-09-950980-6
Scarlet Sorcerer is meant to be paired with Emerald Enchanter, and the single player content in both gamebooks is almost identical – apart from a few cosmetic changes reflecting the place of origin of your character – so this review is going to be identical to that of the other gamebook, heh.
In this one, you’re the Scarlet Sorcerer of Estalon. You and the Emerald Enchanter were star pupils of the powerful wizard Silvarion the Great, although he couldn’t be that powerful since he was murdered by the evil Deathlord, Ralagon, who also happened to be Silvarion’s other star pupil. Ralagon became a Deathlord by creating a Power Crystal that would “make him irresistible to all creatures, living and dead”. It seems like he just wanted to have an orgy with both living and dead creatures, hmmph.
At any rate, you, the Scarlet Sorcerer, and Silvarion the Great crashed into Ralagon’s fortress to steal the Power Crystal, but things didn’t go as planned. When the campaign opens, Silvarion is dead, but he had left both you and your rival clues to the whereabouts of the Power Crystal. Perhaps it would make more sense if Silvarion could tell you the location of that thing right away, since he already went through the trouble of writing things down and sending an eagle to deliver the message to you, but where’s the fun if a wizard didn’t get to indulge in some bad poetry in a gamebook campaign, eh?
So now you are off, setting out in your skyship from your homeland of Estalon to beat the Emerald Enchanter in the hunt for the Power Crystal.
The gameplay system is based on that of Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf gamebooks, but with adaptations and enhancements. You have a skyship, after all, so much of your random wandering is done via reading of clues and looking at the map of the land before choosing the direction your skyship will move to. Battle on the skyship is all about… well, it’s a gamebook version of a FPS game, basically, and you turn to the relevant page based on your option to boost, cruise, or glide. You can also get down from your skyship to investigate various locations on the ground if you wish.
Basically, this is as close to a open sandbox campaign as gamebooks could be at its time of publication. If you are looking for meat in the campaign, well, you won’t find anything but bones in the single-player campaign as it all boils down to navigation and exploring random locations to either get clues (which you get by usually trading Special Items for information) or experience sudden deaths.
And if the whole thing feels needlessly complicated, well, it isn’t actually. It’s worse than needlessly complicated, it’s actually boring. Sure, the initial novelty of exploring and navigating in a skyship is fun at first, but after a while, random wandering starts to feel… well, random and boring. The combat encounters with random mooks are dull – they are one-paragraph affairs, resulting in you automatically losing some Stamina points, winning and getting some Special Item, or dying without any ado. The “dual adventure” campaign requires you and a willing victim – the other having a copy of Emerald Enchanter at hand, naturally – to play the dueling magic wielders and flicking the pages in a make-pretend skyship shoot-out. It’s rather tragic, how two supposedly amazing magic-users are reduced to blasting from their Energy Cannons at each other instead of calling down meteor showers from the sky and what not. Why isn’t this a steampunk campaign featuring gunsmiths? That might have made more sense.
At any rate, Joe Dever tried to make things interesting, and this gamebook probably filled a niche before the time of The Elder Scrolls and various single-player and multiplayer open sandbox fantasy games. But perhaps it would make a more interesting time to just pay a visit to Skyrim. At least they have dragons over there.