Pageturners and thumb twitchers.
When we think about our favourite books we all concoct our own individual contexts and environments in which to place the characters and events we come across. What happens then, when our own personal story is projected on the virtual screens of the masses, created by a studio of anywhere between a single bedroom coder and large scale development team.
Many of the games featured on this list find their roots in classic works of literature; a strange beginning for a video game but one that allows developers to fully explore a subject many will be familiar with. Others take inspiration from overall themes or styles, using atmosphere and well-trodden storylines to introduce new mechanics and gameplay. All of the games on this list were inspired by books and authors that resonated with their developers, a resonance that makes itself known in various unique ways and new play styles.
7. 80 Days
As the title belies, Inkle’s hit travelling game is loosely based on the plot of Jules Verne’s 1873 book, Around the World in Eighty Days, albeit with a steampunk twist. Just in case you missed the original release, the game follows intrepid adventurer Phileas Fogg off the back of a wager in which he has exclaimed the ability to circumnavigate the world in 80 days, or under. That may seem pretty easy these days but back in the eighteenth century was a Pretty Big Deal.
The game follows the course of this adventure narrated by Phileas Fogg’s manservant Passepartout, whose actions and decisions are controlled by the player. On your quest to win the wager you’ll travel on airships, submarines, mechanical camels and steam trains on a one-stop ticket to where you began. It was BAFTA-nominated four times and awarded TIME magazines Game of the Year in 2014. Don’t get too excited though, there’s still some reading involved.
6. Stride & Prejudice
No Crusts Interactive chose Pride and Prejudice as the starting point for their mobile runner game, featuring the famous female protagonist, along with the medium of the written text itself. Created in line with the 200th anniversary of the book’s publication, players traverse the story of Jane Austen’s feminist social drama to unite Elizabeth and Darcy in the novel’s final pages.
But be careful, as old Lizzie can just as easily fall off the page, forcing the player to start from a truth universally acknowledged (in survival mode that is – there’s also a handy reader mode if you want less stress with your Austen). Stride and Prejudice is available on IOS for 99 cents, the same price as the book itself – with more powerups.
5. The Escapists: The Walking Dead
Choosing to make a The Walking Dead spin-off of a prison-escape game was perhaps an unusual choice, but in the case of The Escapists, this turned into a good opportunity to let players explore the original comic source material of the franchise while bashing in zombie skulls.
In The Escapists’ signature top-down, 8-bit visual style, you play as Rick Grimes trying to survive your way through the settings of the comic, such as Alexandria and the Meriwether County Correctional Facility – also something of a tie-in to The Escapists jailbreaking roots. It skirts around the TV adaptation and sticks more faithfully to the source material, including a bunch of the original characters to meet and recruit.
It keeps some management aspects of The Escapists, including daily routines for your characters to keep up their health and morale. If you’re not too fussed about the original story, you can choose to jump into the more recently added Survival Mode instead and try to last as long as you can as a character of your choosing.
4. The Old Man Club
Michael Koloch’s The Old Man Club has you tussling with the ocean life of The Old Man And The Sea in arm wrestle battles with each of the book’s main themes, anthropomorphised into a roster of hench aquatic fighters. This is a clicker game that forces players to mouse-mash their way to success, taking on a range of sea creatures (and one lion far from the pride lands).
Ernest Hemingway’s novel centres around an entire book’s worth of feuding between an old fisherman and a marlin. Sich rivalry os replicated here and expanded upon by each symbolic opponent players come across. The Old Man Club is a short and strange title from the co-founder of Massive Miniteam, and is available on itch.io.
Eldritch tells the story of a Lovecraftian world of Cthulu Mythos and otherworldly horror. As the player turned investigator travels through a decidedly Minecraftian landscape accessed only by dusty book portals from a mysterious library, they learn more about the monsters they encounter, in particular how to destroy them.
A roguelike that works with all the typical generic features you’d expect – procedural generation, semi-permadeath, and maze levels – and executes them simply and efficiently. There’s not much complexity in this little blocky adventure, but that’s the charm of the experience and you’ll quickly appreciate the unique brand of horror so effectively deployed in just the right amount, staying true to Lovecraft’s original works.
2. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
You might be wondering, what book is The Binding of Isaac Rebirth based on? Was it a novel before it was a game? The answer to that is no, but it was based on a story from a very famous book, you might have heard of it, it’s called the Bible. The original Binding of Issac was a story from the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 22 in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Issac. Issac doesn’t end up being sacrificed, a messenger from God interrupts and tells Abraham he has proved his loyalty, and fear of God adequately.
The game takes this somewhat controversial bible passage to tell the story of a young boy whose mother, convinced she is doing God’s work, strips him of everything and locks him in a room alone. Inspired by McMillen’s own religious upbringing, this indie roguelike tells a dark story of betrayal and the portrays the more negative side of religious devotion. Critically acclaimed for its vast variety of gameplay options and replayability The Binding of Issac and its DLC expansions continue to be one of the shining examples of indie game success.
1. The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature
Frankenstein’s monster has had a huge part to play in horror for decades, often as a shambling, vicious being. The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature takes the famous piecemeal person back to the roots of his inception in Mary Shelley’s classic, genre-defining novel, challenging views that many may have on what the creature is truly like.
You play as the creature themselves, exploring the world with an innocent and inquisitive nature. As you wander and meet people on your journey, you question the nature of your existence and the creator that made you in the first place. More crucially, you can make decisions that permanently alter the story and become the creature that you want to be.
Further emphasising the atypical lack of horror in store here, The Wanderer features beautiful hand-painted watercolour art and a haunting, dreamy soundtrack. It’s a worthwhile endeavour to peel away the false mutations of this fictional character that have formed over time and discover something more like the author intended.
From Frankenstein’s monster to Elizabeth Bennet, the bible to Lovecraft, these indie games give us a new perspective on the classics we’ve come to take for granted over the years. In reimagining their characters, themes, and stories, these indies have granted timeless stories and fables a new, interactive lease of life that can only further our appreciation of the nuance threaded through each one.