Rarely does a game manage to take both an unoriginal tale and an unoriginal design, and make something original with it. It’s something that Nocked! itself barely manages to pull off.
Heavily inspired by the text-based adventure games of old, Nocked! adopts the ‘choose your own adventure’ style of gameplay. The story itself, and all the successes and failures within it, are governed by your choices. However, the text-based format is a lot more flexible than the average visual novel that takes the same approach.
The depth and complexity of choice is impressive, and while it might not hold up against text-based classics, it bests most modern attempts. As someone who’s followed Choice of Games—a fairly storied text-based development team—Nocked! manages to exceed them on a technical level.
Initially, the most impressive part is the character creation. A game borrowing from legend rarely has the spine to change the character itself; but the gender, talents, and origin of Robin Hood are all left to player choice. However, this is just the first of many welcome liberties the game takes throughout.
Twists in the Tale
The tale of Robin Hood is fairly overplayed in modern pop culture. It has appeared in everything from dedicated movies to Doctor Who. Trite though the concept may be, Nocked! puts just enough new elements into the story to make it feel fresh, without betraying it.
The primary change made is in how heavily Nocked! leans into the fantastical elements of the era. It populates the forests of Sherwood with a litany of mythical creatures that all play a role in the tale, whether antagonistic or ambiguous.
The Fae form one of the core factions you must appease throughout your journey. A council of fairies ruling all mystical creatures, wisps, and ogres alike. Beyond this, the massive black dragon, Amaranth, can serve as a mystical adviser to the Merry Men, and revelous giants can perform songs to rally the gathered masses.
The Fae, as well as the other three factions: the peasantry, the nobility, and the church, form the crux of who you must appease in your quest to take down the Sheriff and his royal benefactor.
Your reasons for doing so can vary depending on your origins, as can the means you utilise. But ultimately, the core narrative concept remains identical to the folk-tale it borrows from.
The Tale as Told
This formula makes for a resolute narrative, and it is written out well. The only issue I had with the writing throughout the course of the narrative was its failure to convey the passage of time.
A character that I was in the midst of a romance with disappeared for months, only mentioned in a brief paragraph-long descriptor of the war room. Furthermore, the ‘heist’ style missions that pass entire seasons transpire in little more than a night, and the preparation rarely feels like months.
Beyond that, both the ambient writing, the character writing, and the core recounting of narrative are all told perfectly competently. It doesn’t stand out as exceptional writing, but nor should it. While text is the medium, the gameplay is the focus. It’s neither distractingly good nor bad; a balance that suits a game like this perfectly.
There’s not much to expect mechanically from these games, and Nocked! doesn’t fail in any aspect of it. It saves itself constantly, so while I did experience a couple of crashes, I could dive right back into it with no loss. This makes it a great title to jump in and out of.
This does mean that once you’ve begun a play-through, you’re committed to seeing it to the end. Given the game’s considerable size, as well as the numerous ways you can slowly fail at it, this isn’t great.
Beyond that, it adopts a fairly simple configuration. It gives you a home base with various different rooms, characters that manage your group, and missions that take you beyond its bounds. It sounds simplistic, but with the mind-numbing amount of resources and values it gives you to manage, it’s quite the task.
Managing the Merry Men
The game’s challenge and the bulk of it’s gameplay is derived from resource management. It gives you four central resources to keep on top of. Gold, renown, men, and power. Most of these can be converted into one another, albeit at a poor conversion rate. Not all can, though.
Beyond these values, there’s your influence with the four key factions: Fae, peasants, nobles, and the church. You spend central resources to gain favour, which eventually translates to influence. The Sheriff and his men can impede your ability to negotiate with various factions, increasing the amount of favour it takes to earn influence.
Next to these values, there are values that impede your central resources. Forest overgrowth costs you men as people lose faith in your defences. Infamy costs you renown, as the nobles baulk at your actions. There’s also Fae mischief and legendary momentum, which I couldn’t decipher across two play-throughs.
Balancing all this is so central to the challenge. The difficulty levels centre around gaining and losing resources. It’s far from a bad system, but it’s nearly impossible to keep track of it all. The only place to see the collected impact is at a bulletin board in your home location. This is aside from your central resources, which appear on the left of the screen.
Outside of keeping your band of miscreants from collapsing, balancing these resources mostly comes into play during combat or mission scenarios. You can spend renown to lay traps and tricks, or expend men to harass forces before an encounter.
Managing resources like this, prior to an encounter, is much more enjoyable than managing them in your base. Figuring out what it’s worth to lessen your enemies’ numbers and where to deploy people is a more compelling challenge.
The Tale Manifest
Normally, text games don’t bother with art at all, so the manner in which Nocked! uses it, while minimalistic, was a welcome surprise. It’s used mainly to convey ambiance, depicting forest scenes or crumbling ruins behind the central text window. These switch with the seasons, flitting from shades of emerald green, to autumnal auburn, and cold winter. It is by no means extraordinary, but for those that struggle to immerse themselves in these kinds of games, it’s a solid addition.
The other curious art decision are the characters themselves, who exist as silhouettes to the left or right of the scene. Far from being simplistic amorphous shadows, the silhouettes are beautifully detailed. They outline every strand of hair and every twirling cape. There just aren’t any facial features or defining details.
It’s an excellent decision for a game covering figures of legend, obscured by time and countless re-tellings. And they fit perfectly into the emerald background of Sherwood forest. They could have simply painted them all out in full detail, but this subdued approach suits the game far better. It’s an excellent artistic decision.
As with its art, the sound also primarily serves the ambiance. The forest sounds and soothing soundtrack convey the upbeat and mysterious nature of Sherwood. While the music serves peaceful ambiance perfectly well however, it falls a little short in dramatic or combat scenes.
The Tale Retold
As with any game that boasts as many choices as Nocked!, re-playability is inherent. Every combat scene can be handled a myriad of ways, and different groups can be appealed to. Your base can be situated in numerous places, and characters can have various fates. Not to mention the main reason most such games are replayed: the numerous romance options.
It warrants more than one play-through to get the complete experience from this title, especially given that you can learn so much mechanically from one play-through to the next about how the world works. And seeing as you can’t restart at any point, a play-through handled poorly to start with is a nightmare to recover from.
Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood – Final Verdict
For a style of game that requires minimal budget or technical expertise, there are shockingly few good text-based games. Nocked! certainly ranks among them, though. A well-executed resurrection of an old tale and style, people who love this style of game will find this is well worth a try.
- THE GOOD
- Well written.
- An interesting take on a classic tale.
- Surprising depth of mechanics.
- Diverse roster of characters.
- Interesting combat and diplomatic confrontations.
- THE BAD
- Prone to crashes.
- Overly complex resource system.
For a style of game that requires minimal budget or technical expertise, there are shockingly few good text-based games. Nocked! certainly ranks among them, though. A well-executed resurrection of an old tale and style, people who love text-based games will find this is well worth a try.