Top 10 best gamebooks on iPhone, iPad, and Android
Proving books are about more than just words
Updated: Original list by Matt Thrower, Updated by Jupiter Hadley on March 25nd, 2021.
People are paradoxical. The more technology you give them, the more they yearn for the good old days. That's why mobile stores are rife with emulators and revisions of older games.
Perhaps the most extreme example is the resurrection of choose your own adventure game books. Originally these were physical books that allowed role-players to enjoy a solo dose of their favourite hobby. Now they've become a popular sub-genre on mobile.
Publishers have taken a varied approach to bringing them into the modern age. Some have made straight-up e-book versions of the originals. Others have been reimagined as hybrid action or strategy games. Another interesting thing about the genre is that almost all the top titles are available on both iOS and Android.
Either way, this list of the best should offer a mix of some delicious nostalia tickling, and impressive modern gaming action.
With that title, you'd assume a gameified version of Jules Verne's classic adventure yarn. And you'd be right. But it derives little more than inspiration from the original. This 80 days is set in dazzling Steampunk version of late 19th century earth.
It's bought vividly to life with some of the finest writing ever seen in a gamebook. And it doesn't skimp on digital innovations either. Maintaining cashflow, sometimes by telegraphing ahead for transfers, is part of the strategy. And the story can change in a myriad of important ways depending on your choices.
Arcadia by Iain Pears
This interactive story is available on iOS as a game and Android as a e-book, but does have interactions throughout. Iain Pears wrote Arcadia specifically for mobile devices, allowing you to change perspectives as you wish, navigating through the narrative and seeing different character's takes on the same actions happening.
To help you best understand what is going on, this game contains a map to help you out. The interaction is pretty interesting and doesn't detract from the story itself either.
Unmemory is a narrative thriller with some puzzle elements to it, where the words sometimes change. You play as someone who has lost their memory, currently looking for their girlfriend. As you read this story, there are various puzzles to interact with, images to take a look at, and functions that you can end up playing around with - which can actually change the story.
There is also a good dose of mystery - it's one of my personal favorite narrative adventure games out there.
Blackbar is a pretty interesting interactive fiction game, where you need to guess the words that have been censored by black bars, to get the full picture. The story is told through letters that are being sent to your character - Vi - which have been censored by the Department of Communication. You will need to figure out what these letters are actually talking about - adding a good puzzle aspect to the game, but overall it's very captivating and interesting to read.
Fighting Fantasy: Blood of the Zombies
The biggest brand in the heyday of gamebooks was Fighting Fantasy. Tin Man Games has the lisence to reprint these classic titles, and has been steadily working through the backlog.
It started with this, originally published in 2012 to celebrate 30 years of Fighting Fantasy. That's a lot of time to hone the format and it shows. The writing is taut, the atmosphere bleak and the mechanics stripped to a minimum. So you can enjoy thrilling combat encounters without the danger of repetitive dice rolling interrupting the story.
Sorcery! Part 2 - Khare, Cityport of Traps
The four part Sorcery! saga also allowed you to carry your character from book to book. Arguably it's shorter arc made it a tighter, more focused experience. This entry is for the classic second book, but if you want to play, you ought to start at the first.
Nor was Lone Wolf the only series to get a drastic digital makeover in the modern age. Inkle's wondrous adaptation freely mixes text and graphical interfaces. And it adds mini games and tactical combat for good measure.
King of Dragon Pass
King of Dragon Pass isn't really a gamebook. In fact, no-one's quite sure what it is, other than a unique blend of text adventure, role-playing, and grand strategy. But it owes an obvious debt to gamebooks, and is so unusual, that it merits a spot on the list.
The game sees you ruling a barbaric tribe in the bizarre and highly detailed fantasy world of Glorantha. The bulk of the game sees you reading text and making choices, just like a gamebook. The difference is that that narrative isn't fixed, and can change drastically depending on your actions.
If you want to truly immerse yourself in a believable swords and sorcery setting, there are no better routes than this.
I'm going off message again with this one. It's perhaps more closely related to classic text adventures than gamebooks. But the two are so close on the evolutionary tree of gaming that it doesn't seem a stretch. And it's a gem of a game.
Rather than the usual paragraphs and text parser, the words on the screen actually draw out the physical environments of the game. This allows for some ingenious, and sometimes near impossible, puzzles.
If you want a gamebook that'll challenge the logic as well as the imagination, you don't do better than DEVICE 6.
Ryan North's To Be Or Not To Be
If you are a fan of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, but want to be able to decide what happens next and how the story actually progresses, then Ryan North's To Be or Not To Be is a game well worth checking out. You can decide who to play - Hamlet, Ophelia or even King Hamlet - seeing what choices and decisions that can be made and figuring out how you want to progress the story. This version of Shakespeare is very funny, adding so much more interest to the original story.
A Wise Use of Time
A Wise Use of Time is pure text - giving you various multiple choice options to drive the story. It's a sci-fi novel that takes this genre into it's purest form. In this story, you have the ability to freeze time - where nobody can see you or hear you - but every single second in this power actually puts stress on your body and mind, so you will need to choose when to use it carefully.
There is a lot of action in this game - if you choose it - allowing you to defeat mobsters, steal from the rich or just hang out with your friends and family.