Tin Man Games, $4.99
The Forgotten Spell is called a gamebook, but it’s an interactive story where you have to solve puzzles to proceed instead of one where you roll dice and stab things to death. It’s meant for very young kids, so for the most part, things are pretty tame here. No gratuitous bloodshed, for a start.
You are a kid who spends the entire campaign discovering that you are not just capable of casting spells. you are also destined for greatness. In Suidemor, the city of Faeries, you have to topple its evil ruler, the warlock Olcrada. To do so, however, you have to get out of the prison cell in which you find yourself in at the start of the campaign. Lots of puzzles are waiting for you, so get a calculator to help you along the way. Or, if you are kid, get a pen and paper. Doing sums is good for you – counting help you become very, very rich when you grow up and you will get to have many, many hot boyfriends or girlfriends, depending on your preference. So don’t go mum on sums!
Okay, back to this thing. The Forgotten Spell is a great example of both the advantages and limitations of the interactive app format of gamebooks. Tin Man Games has created a beautiful app here – the music is nice, the transition from one scene to another is great, and the convenience of going to the next entry with just a tap on the screen is nice. The usability complements the gorgeous illustrations fabulously. The narrative is juvenile and may not appeal much to adults, but then again, adults are not the target demographic here.
Here’s the interesting paradox: if this gamebook is meant for kids, it’s not designed to be one user-friendly for kids. Heck, adults may not find it easy to solve many of these puzzles. Not because they are hard, oh no, but because of the limitations of the app. The puzzles that require close scrutiny of an illustration are especially brutal because the illustrations in question are small on the screen. One of the first puzzles requires you to compare symbols on the page to symbols on the spines of the books in the illustration. There are many, many, many books in that illustration, and the symbol on the spine of each one is so small that it can be problematic to make them out even with a magnifying glass. And it’s different using a magnifying glass on a book compared to an iPad or smartphone, somehow, due to the smaller screen real estate especially on smartphones.
Those puzzles requiring code-cracking can be annoying too. With a book, you can at least photocopy the page with the code solutions and use the photocopied page to compare with the code on the puzzle page. Here, however, it’s down to writing things down slowly on a piece of paper as you keep flipping from one page to another, one alphabet in the code after another. The whole process is annoying and boring, and it’s likely most young kids would get bored quickly.
Therefore, while there is nothing wrong with the structure of The Forgotten Spell itself – it seems like a quaint campaign that has its moments, and the puzzles could have been fun if the app hadn’t made most of them a chore involving much squinting or note-taking – it is perhaps better to get the dead tree copy of this interactive adventure. It may be hard and expensive to get one, though, as this is an Australian-brewed campaign, and the postage cost involved is steep. Oh well.