A fantasy gamebook comes to life

Aqilah Rahman

I have vague memories of reading choose-your-adventure books when I was young. Stay and fight the evil centaur? Turn to page 19. Escape through the tunnel? Turn to page 48. I never made it to the end because one way or another, my character would die because of my bad decisions and I’d run off to do something else.

That said, I figured playing a tabletop adventure game on the Nintendo Switch would be an interesting experience, so I recently got myself The Warlock of Firetop Mountain: Goblin Scrounge Edition.

The game is based on a fantasy gamebook with the same name, first printed in 1982. You start off with a selection of four heroes to choose from, with additional unlockable characters. Each hero has their own unique stats based on their Stamina, Skill Points and Luck. Stamina is your health points, while Skill Points allow you to use special attacks during battle and Luck is the added value to the dice during combat.

Each character has unique abilities that help you on your journey. For example, one character may notice details that others wouldn’t, while another character is more likely to avoid booby-traps.

After choosing your hero, you’ll set off on a journey to a mountain full of traps and monsters. True to its tabletop gaming premise, the game represents your character as a placing piece. Your character “hops” around the dungeon as if lifted by your hand.

The game complements its minimalistic animation with intricate illustrations from the original book. Despite being almost 40 years old, the illustrations look just as stunning, if not more so, in all their colourised glory.

A screenshot of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain: Goblin Scrounge Edition. PHOTOS: TIN MAN GAMES
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain: Goblin Scrounge Edition gameplay

As for the battle system, the game serves up turn-based tactics with a twist. Instead of the simple “select target and attack” approach, the game requires you to predict your enemies’ movement.

You can either attack an enemy directly – assuming the enemy stays in that slot – or you can attack an empty slot you think they’ll move to. If your prediction is right, you’ll land a hit. If not, better luck next turn. If you and an enemy strike each other at the same time, each of you will roll dice to decide who gets to strike a blow.

There are a lot of branching paths in the dungeon, and it can be worthwhile to explore other areas instead of just heading straight in one direction. You may find items that will be handy later on, like a slab of meat to distract hungry beasts so you can escape safely.

Throughout the dungeon, you’ll come across wooden benches where you can rest and eat your provisions to heal your Stamina. The wooden benches also act as checkpoints where you can revive your character.

It’s worth noting that you can only revive your character three times at most. After that, you’ll have to start over from square one.

You’ll also meet some other characters in the dungeon, and depending on your choices, they’ll either help or harm you. It can be a rather tough call at times, but it does amp up the excitement factor. Much like dying in conventional adventure books, dying in this game is practically inevitable, usually because of traps or being outnumbered by enemies. The game is meant to be played in a trial and error sort of way, but not everyone will enjoy this.

In terms of technical issues, I only encountered one – the loading times. There were times when I wondered if my game crashed, but thankfully, that never happened. The longest loading time I had was probably around 10 seconds.

I was already aware of this issue before I bought the game, so I was prepared for the loading times to be longer than they should’ve been. Overall, it’s a minor hiccup that I didn’t mind much.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is most likely to appeal to those who’ve read the source material and those who grew up with tabletop adventures games. The difficulty level can be frustrating if you prefer a more conventional RPG approach where you can heal and save often, so this game won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Personally, I enjoyed the tabletop gameplay mechanics despite the difficulty level.