One of the problems with adaptations of existing works is that no matter how perfectly the conversion is pulled off, the end result still depends heavily on the quality of the source. If you're familiar with developer Tin Man Games, I probably don't even need to tell you that Fighting Fantasy: Island of the Lizard King [$3.99] is a perfect iOS version of the classic gamebook. The thing is, there are a lot of Fighting Fantasy books, and they're not all winners. Island of the Lizard King isn't a bad one, and oh my, are there some bad ones, but I've never been a big fan of it. The unfortunate result is that while I will once again applaud Tin Man Games's fine work in the gamebook genre, I don't think this one is all that great, through no fault of their own.
An early installment in the popular Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks, Island of the Lizard King has you exploring an island full of danger in the hopes of defeating the Lizard King and freeing the young men he's enslaved. This one was written by Games Workshop co-founder Ian Livingstone, who was responsible for many other books in the line, including one we've reviewed before, The Forest of Doom [$5.99]. This was Livingstone's fourth book in less than two years, following relatively hot on the heels of Deathtrap Dungeon, and I think the pace was starting to get to him, because Island of the Lizard King is considerably less elaborate than his prior books.
Some of the Fighting Fantasy books are so open-ended that playing them today on a mobile device, it's almost hard to believe they were actually designed around being physical books. This one, though, is pretty straightforward. All paths lead to the end, the number of traps are quite few, and the puzzles are barely there. What this book does have is combat, and plenty of it. If you were playing The Forest of Doom and thinking that rolling dice was so fun that you'd like to do it on every page, you're going to have a rollicking good time here. Don't get me wrong, the action-packed nature of Lizard King does make it stand out, and the fights are pretty intense and described with excellent style. The problem is that combat in Fighting Fantasy really does just come down to a roll of the dice, with little strategy at play, something that is made all the more apparent by having so many encounters only broken up by luck checks.
One other thing I should mention is that this gamebook is probably Livingstone's most difficult one. Some of the enemies are very strong, and the sheer quantity of fights makes this a tough battle of attrition. I wouldn't walk into this one without anything less than the best starting stats if you're interested in actually finishing it. Having a high skill stat is necessary to survive the fights, and towards the end you're going to need to make so many luck checks that you'd best have a high number in that stat, as well. Adding to the challenge are the nicely-implemented achievements. As usual, Tin Man Games has done a good job of tucking them away in interesting corners, providing a nice incentive for exploring, which is good because the linear nature of the adventure itself offers little reason to replay.
While I'm not terribly fond of the adventure, Lizard King has a really cool climax. The scale of the final battle is huge, and it makes an excellent attempt at capturing the feel of a major action set-piece. The quality of the writing is quite a bit higher near the end, as well, and it certainly feels like Livingstone put his heart into this portion and wrote his way back out. One of the most common pitfalls of gamebooks is a limp ending, so it's really nice to see one finish out with a huge bang for once. While I'm on the subject of positives, the artwork in this book, done by Alan Langford, is awesome. He's got a real talent for expressing motion, especially with animals. He also does a great job of putting together a complete scene, so it feels like you've grabbed a frame out of a movie rather than a picture of a cardboard standee of a monster. I wish he had done more gamebooks.
This iOS version comes with all the bells and whistles you'd expect from Tin Man Games. You have a choice of difficulty setting, allowing you to just flip through to the end if you don't think you can handle the actual game, well-done achievements, bookmarking to allow you to retrace your steps, and a detailed history of Fighting Fantasy. The presentation strives to recreate the feel of having the book in your hands, and it does a great job of it, adding just a bit of ambient music to add to the mood. The people at Tin Man Games always knock it out of the park with their conversions, so I doubt I'm giving out any new information here.
I will say that in the year or so that Tin Man has had the Fighting Fantasy license, they've made some interesting choices as to which books to adapt. The Forest of Doom was a slam-dunk choice, House of Hell is a quirky classic, and Blood of the Zombies is historically significant, but getting this one in the absence of certain famous titles is odd. I'm sure we'll see them soon enough, though, and we've got Starship Traveller to look forward to next in their Fighting Fantasy line-up, which I'm very excited about. I wish I had that same excitement for Island of the Lizard King, but I don't. It's a wonderful conversion of a fairly weak adventure, and that ending sequence is definitely something to experience, but I wouldn't even have it in my top 10 choices for Fighting Fantasy adaptations. Set against the overall iOS gamebook landscape, it's hard to recommend unless you're a big fan of the genre.
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