Sitting down to play Tin Man Games’ Caverns of the Snow Witch really took me back. Although I’m far too young to remember the golden age of adventure books, in my early teens I recall hoarding a small Fighting Fantasy collection. Even back then, the books would often come with faded covers and yellowing pages, yet they still held a certain charm.
For those who have no idea what I’m babbling on about, Fighting Fantasy was (and still is) the marquee series in world of gamebooks. Devised by gaming pioneers Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson (both of whom went on to create Games Workshop) these pocket-sized books allowed players to immerse themselves in epic adventures, using just two dice and a pencil.
Given the technology we have nowadays, gamebooks may seem embarrassingly outdated but to some they possess an enduring nostalgic appeal. Catering to this niche crowd, as well as those who’ve yet to experience the phenomenon, Tin Man Games has diligently adapted a number of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in the past, Caverns of the Snow Witch being their latest.
The concept is very simple. Before setting off on their quest, players roll two dice to determine their character’s attributes, much like in Dungeons & Dragons. These are jotted down in an inventory alongside a basic list of provisions to aid you in your quest. Obviously, having eschewed the paperback format, this is all done automatically in-game, saving you the hassle of ferreting around for dice, pencils, and rubbers.
After a brief introduction, the stabilisers are torn away, leaving players to fend for themselves in what can be a perilous and often unforgiving adventure. Choosing which path to follow is as simple as tapping one of the options presented to you when reading the text on each page. This will direct you to the corresponding page, which will then direct you to another, and so on. In essence, Fighting Fantasy is all about choice, allowing players to select two completely different paths.
That’s not to say that all of these will lead to a happy ending. Anyone who’s had a brush with the series before will know the frustration of suddenly having their journey ended thanks to a single poor decision. However, whether bested in combat, caught in a trap, or ailing from fatigue, it’s always been a tradition to bend the rules and flip back to the previous page. Though technically cheating, it never felt bad considering the amount of time usually invested in getting so far into the books.
To avoid that temptation, however, Caverns of the Snow Witch can be played using hardcore settings. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it but the option is still there. No, the difficulty level I settled for was far more lenient with menu options to instantly restore lost health, automatically resolve fights, and even return me to the last “safe” page. If not for this mode I probably would have spent no more than five minutes with the game.
You see, aside from sudden events that can instantly kill you, there are other issues with how the game pans out in the long term. For instance, choosing certain paths can mean missing out on potential items and gear that are needed to survive later portions of the game. Without the option of cheating, you’re only option is to start from scratch and, hopefully, find where you went wrong. There’s no point sugar-coating it, it’s a fundamental flaw, yet one that Fighting Fantasy fans have grown accustomed to.
If anything, the way in which Caverns of the Snow Witch is presented deserves merit. Artwork from the original paperback has been remastered in colour and the actual layout of the game screen gives it that authentic Fighting Fantasy feel. Overall, it’s another solid adaptation by Tin Man Games. If you’ve never really liked gamebooks then little here will change your mind but for those looking for a hit of nostalgia, or simply something new, the asking price may be justified.