Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood Review24 Jul 2019 2
Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood Review
Released 08 Jul 2017
There is no canonical version of Robin Hood. The earliest printed tales we have date from the 15th century, but it was an oral tradition much earlier. And it seems he wasn't always the jolly socialist we know and love. These first stories feature many well-known names, but a violent Robin who is more interested in regaining his lands than giving to the poor.
So it's fitting that the best part of Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood, a text and strategy hybrid game about his adventures in Sherwood forest, is how you can shape Robin as you like. Even the gender and love interests of this Robin are yours to make your own. Beyond that, you can fashion Robin's morality from classic outlaw to a far crueller thief.
You can make Robin a wronged nobleman or a champion of the peasantry. They can be a practical champion or one who dabbles in monsters and mysticism.
Choosing to add supernatural elements to this much-loved fairy-tale is a controversial choice. And it's something any player has to buy into full-heartedly because it's everywhere. On the whole, it works, adding a lot of extra choices and colour to the classic stories, as well as allowing the occasional mood change. An early encounter with a ghostly knight on a hill was a welcome touch of horror amid the pageantry. But as the story moves on, it becomes too frequent, becoming everyday and pedestrian when it should be mystical and exciting.
As far as the core characters of the legends go, though, they're all here and bought to life in vivid colour. Some, like Marian, you'll meet close to the beginning. Others don't turn up until you've got a good way into the story. The drip-feed helps build the anticipation for big entrances. Bumping into well-known names, like Little John, wielding his staff atop a river crossing, feel like punch-the-air moments.
Of course, none of this would work without some quality writing, and here Nocked! delivers in droves. Descriptions make a great job of setting the scene and drawing characters, who advance in complexity alongside the story. Fantastic art and music help draw you deep into Sherwood. Yet for all that, it's well-edited and restrained as a good gamebook should be. You're never too far from making important decisions instead of getting bogged down in reams of text.
Indeed, the writing is so good it does a great job of supporting those decisions. Often, text adventures like this are complete crapshoots where there's almost nothing to go on other than blind instinct. Nocked!, by contrast, telegraphs potential consequences with great skill, dropping hints to use when choosing your path. You can shape Robin however you like, but when the chips are down it can pay to re-read the passages before a decision.
Some rudimentary strategy elements add depth to your text-based decisions. Early on this consists entirely of resource management. Later you'll be able to use those resources to make more long term decisions as you build a base of operations deep in Sherwood forest. Some decision options, often the more desirable choices, come with a resource cost which is clearly marked in-game. Where it gets more interesting though is in resource allocation at pivotal moments.
Say you're in a battle against a group of fearsome bandits. Nocked! neither leaves it all to text or numbers but a mixture of the two. You'll get to direct the major characters in the scene and allocate your pool of Merry Men to attack, defence or other operations. These choices can have major consequences for how the story plays out.
Yet they actually feel less strategic than making text decisions. The numbers are clear and visible whenever you need them. But the outcome of spending or allocating them to different options doesn't carry the same sense of hidden hints. This creates an odd contrast, where the subjective decisions feel weightier than what should be objective ones. Nocked! uses numbers creatively, adding timers for tension on top of stats and resources. But while they add colour, they don't offer any extra sense of control.
Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood is not a short game, but the many faces you can give to Robin give it plenty of replay value. A bigger question is how many players will want to. This is no Six Ages, with a seamless blend of story and tactics. Rather it's a top-quality gamebook which throws a few numbers around to add a vague sense of strategy. Fans of the former genre will lap it up; fans of the latter should approach with a bit more caution.
Nocked! was originally released on iOS in 2017, but it made the jump over to Steam last week.