Preview: Fighting Fantasy

If you were a nerd child of the 80s — and especially if you were a nerd child of the 80s in Britain — there’s a very good chance you read (or rather played) a book series called Fighting Fantasy. Initially written by the founders of Games Workshop, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, the Fighting Fantasy  series was an immensely popular “choose your own adventure” books, selling over 14 million copies across over 70 books.

Bigger in the UK than in the US, the series is noted for its complex narratives and game-like nature. Rather than just read a section and making a choice where to go, the gamebooks allowed players to roll dice, gain stats, and journey through the books. Think of it as a single-player tabletop role-playing game.

Unfortunately, Wikipedia tells me that videogames basically killed off the series, which has struggled to remain the most relevant of pastimes through the 90s and first decade of the Millennium. So what can you do? Well, aside from relaunching and rebooting the series, Fighting Fantasy is coming back as a Nintendo DS game based off the original gamebook, the Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

How does it look right now? Hit the jump for my impressions.

Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (Nintendo DS)
Developer: Big Blue Bubble
Publisher: Aspyr Media
To be released: October 2009

Right off the bat, you have to know, Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is not a “choose your own adventure” narrative for the DS. There is no long passages of text describing what you do, and you don’t roll dice determining your stats. Rather, this is a straightforward first-person RPG. This is at once a throwback to the first-person RPGs of old, as well as contemporary RPGs like Oblivion.

Characters are controlled using the stylus, with magic and weapons hot-keyed to buttons on the screen, depending on what class you are. Gameplay involves sending you on missions, interacting with NPCs, going on fetch quests, and fighting baddies. It looks to be fairly straightforward, and I’ve been told it can take between eight to 10 hours to complete when it is released this October. Unfortunately, since this was a hands-off preview, I can’t tell you if the controls need work, but they certainly seem functional.

Even though the game was in an early demo stage, there was one thing that blew me away: the level graphics. These are some of the best looking real-time graphics I have seen on the DS. Libraries looks like libraries with books tossed on the floor and strewn about. Dwarven caves are dark and dank, and the dungeons are organic. Other than that grainy effect that impacts many games with high graphical aspirations on low-powered consoles, I was really impressed with what developer Big Blue Bubble has done with the visuals.

Unfortunately, I’m more than a little concerned with the NPCs and enemies throughout the game. Sure, zombie dwarves, rogue skeletons, and human vendors all look decent in the chat scenes, with a distinctive art style. But in-game, they seem to come off as rotating GIFs that are always facing you. I remember a fight between said zombie dwarves, and it was a swarm of “*.GIF” zombies that sort of floated toward the player, rotating between attack animations.

Also, since the DS isn’t exactly designed for a lot of on-screen happenings, the towns and dungeons are not exactly action packed. As a matter of fact, I saw only two NPCs standing in the main town. It felt isolated. However, I’m going to give this game some slack, as this was an early preview (pre-alpha build) of Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain with another three months or so to go in development. But considering the quality of the level graphics, the enemies and NPCs felt like a low point.

Ultimately, however, I think Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain could be worth being on your radar. With level graphics that could rival Dementium: The Ward, a seemingly solid control scheme, a promised sense of humor (I saw tacos as a health item, for example), and a pedigree that not many fantasy franchises can claim, Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain has some promise. We’ll have to get a more complete hands-on with the game to make anymore declarations of its quality, that’s for sure.

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Ben Perlee
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