Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Top 11 of '11 (iOS). Number 1 - Silversword.

A lot of you might not have heard of my number 1 pick. And, it's fair to say, I may have been wearing rose-tinted glasses whilst picking it. But so what? It may be very retro, and not terribly original, but you could say that about a lot of games in this list. It's not a "Top 11 all-original all-new-concept games" or a "Top 11 non-retro games" list. It's my favourite iOS games of 2011. And Silversword is my very favourite of them.

Bit of a dump, this, innit?

When I was a lad, back in the mid-to-late-80s, I owned a Commodore 64. One day, I wandered into the computer shop as normal, and there on the shelf was a game called The Bard's Tale. I'd read the review of it in ZZAP! 64, and it sounded amazing. But it was disk-only. Or so I thought...

I picked it up to have a look at it, and saw that this version came on two cassettes. And it was only £2.99! There was no way I could turn that down, not at that price. So I bought it, and trundled off home to play...

Cat got your tongue? Oh... no. I see that it hasn't.

It wasn't what you would call an immediate game, The Bard's Tale. To a novice, all the rolling characters and stuff was a bit highbrow. The game did give you a pre-rolled team to play with if you wanted, but where's the fun in that? Once you got started, exploring the ruins of Skara Brae was genuinely thrilling... until one of you got killed by a low-level monster and you had to either start again or create a new character.

Eventually, you'd learn to fight your battles carefully and save after every one. It was the only way to make progress, and it was very slow going, but you could cut the tension with a broadsword. After a long time spent creeping about you'd be able to level up, becoming more powerful and finding better weapons and armour. And then you'd feel brave enough to tackle your first dungeon...

Come on gang, let's get powerful!

The Bard's Tale took me thirteen months to complete. I can say, with complete honesty, that I enjoyed every second of it. Yes, even the multiload. Yes, even the epic fight with four groups of 99 Berserkers. On occasions such as these, I'd just read ZZAP! 64 or listen to my Yngwie Malmsteen albums. Happy days.

Here's where the point emerges. I've been looking for a game like The Bard's Tale for years. I could play the original on an emulator, but time has robbed me of much of the patience I need. The Etrian Odyssey games fit the bill even if they are really, really hard. But they're on the DS, and I don't carry that around with me (shamefully, I don't use it much in the house, either). But Silversword, on my iPhone, is perfect.

Hey, look! The circus in town!

It really could be The Bard's Tale IV. The game has that distinct style you'd expect of a Bard's Tale game... three windows, one at the bottom displaying your party, one at the top left showing you the game world, and one at the top right giving you a description of anything interesting that's happening. A heart-warming sight, indeed.

So, once you've had a read of the instruction manual, you'll be ready to go. Hang on a minute... what? That's right... Silversword comes with a 41-page instruction manual. It's a real rarity nowadays, and is very welcome. If you're particularly enamoured, you can buy (for £1.99, through In-App Purchases) the Silversword compendium, which is an expanded version of the manual running at 74 pages.

Jeeesus Christ! Run away! Run awaaaaaaay!

I've forked out for that, although you're not missing that much if you don't. You'll get illustrations and more details on the character classes, which are nice additions. Of more practical use are the creature and item lists. These seemingly-exhaustive documents provide all kinds of information... values of items, who can use them and what benefits they give, for example, and creature types, hit points and XP values. This could be seen as being a bit spoilerish, but if you don't buy it you've got nothing to worry about, and if you do you're probably going to be playing the game enough to find it of real use.

Silversword begins with you in the Ruin Camp in the realm of Tarnak. There's a team pre-assembled and waiting... rather like a new car, you can take them out for a "test drive" while you get used to the game, its controls and how it works. They're a decent bunch, and if you want to play the game with them you most certainly can. However, it's much more enjoyable to roll your own characters, and go to battle yourself with a bunch of your mates or heroes by your side. I have a load of real-life musicians that I like battling with me... yes, I'm just that sad.

Ahhh, that Sister Elenore is a Saint!

Once you're out and about, you'll find yourself in the ruins of Castle Cranbourgh. It's best to have a bit of a wander and familiarise yourself with the surroundings. At first, you'll be spending a lot of time here. Luckily, the game auto-maps itself, and it allows you to make notes at points of interest. This is a great feature, and saves massively on the cost of graph paper!

The wrecked town around the castle contains an armoury, weapons store, training hall and shrine. From these you can buy armour and weapons (obviously), level up when you have the experience, and heal wounded characters. You'll also encounter characters in the town that will prove useful if you can complete certain actions...

Alright, gang... we're going in...

Set foot a bit further afield, and you'll find towers and dungeons, and new, fiercer creatures. That's why you have to take baby steps... stray too far and you'll get creamed. This kind of "grinding" is either loathed or tolerated it seems... I really don't mind it in games like this, because I genuinely enjoy the whole process. Just pottering about and figuring the lie of the land is good.

Another benefit of doing this is that the more you perform certain actions, the better you get at them. So spellcasters are more likely to cause more damage with a spell the more they use it, for example (not exceeding its maximum, of course). So it does pay to beat up the little guys, although whether it's worth the time it takes is debatable.

Alright, now it's brown trousers time!

Your actual quest is very vague. You don't really know what to do or where to go. But I actually like this aspect of it. It means that you piece together the storyline as you go. Or at least, that's what I'm expecting. I haven't got all that far yet, at least, I don't think I have. I've no idea how big this game might be. But I'm going to find out... even if it takes me thirteen months, or longer... there have been loads more Yngwie Malmsteen albums released since then...

Silversword is my number one iOS game of 2011. It's a Universal app, and is currently £2.99... exactly the same price I paid for The Bard's Tale about twenty-five years ago.


  1. I discovered the Bard Tale on my Atari St. Strange given that I'd has a disc drive on my C64 for ages. Since I pen and paper role-play I felt right at home with it, and somehwere I'm sure I'll still have my old maps. Some of the last levels took absolutely ages, expecially that one which turned off the lights, disbale your compas and then span you in a random direction! I did eventaully finish it however - I was racing the guy who became my brother in law to be fist past the post but he got there first! That marked the beginning of the end of my love affair with text adventures. It was onto Dungeon master and Ultima after that!

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  3. Does this have an iPad-native resolution?

  4. El Cid was my favorite...