In the ’80s and early ’90s, choose your own adventure gamebooks were quite the craze. There’s been a resurgence of sorts recently, both on paper and digitally, chiefly of the fondly remembered Fighting Fantasy series. Nintendo Adventure Books? Not so much.
A remarkable 12 books were released in 1991-92, based largely on Nintendo Comic System, the series of comic books released in 1990-1991. Which is certainly one way to achieve efficiency.
The first ten gamebooks featured the Super Mario Bros, with the last couple set in the Zelda universe. I have a feeling I bought the third book, Monster Mix-Up, from a car boot sale – the small green sticker on the inside cover probably indicated a price point. Anyway, it goes without saying that it’s a cherished possession and a quality item.
The UK was only very shortly behind North America – making it probably the only Nintendo product of the period that can be said about. A number of the books were also variously translated into Hungarian, Dutch or Swedish. Some of the books could also be obtained for free with the purchase of two tubes of Pringles. It’s one of the more unusual release strategies.
Several authors penned books in the series. Clyde Bosco, real name sadly Russell Ginns, was behind four, including the first two, and went on to contribute to Half-Life and Lode Runner amongst other things. Bill McCay wrote three, including Monster Mix-Up, and is still writing. Matt Wayne did the last five, and has since written rather a lot for children’s TV.
These days, as a grown man in his thirties, I’m not exactly in the original target demographic, but the writing really doesn’t strike me as bloody awful at all. The art isn’t bad either – but for a Nintendo-licensed product, you’d hope they’d make sure of that.
The set up of Monster Mix-Up is quite fun too: the Monster Mixer, a giant helicopter-cum-whisk, is creating all sorts of combinations of familiar Mario enemies – like the Chomp-Muncher, a Chain Chomp with the body of a Muncher. But not the body of Christ and the legs of Tina Turner; that’s a Fight Like Apes album.
And what about the game element? You have to solve stupid little puzzles (mazes, spot the difference), collect coins and items, and make decisions without the remotest chance of predicting the outcome. This hefty element of chance means it’s surprisingly easy to hit Game Over. The quality and difficulty of the books do reputedly vary, and this isn’t considered one of the best or easiest. A great choice!
It’s aimed at children though, so how complicated can it be, really? It’s 121 pages, with 61 sections. How hard can that be? I decided to map out the possible paths through the book.
I should have given myself more space.
It’s frightening how many possible loops there are to get stuck in. And inevitably, with several ways of reaching most pages, the text doesn’t exactly flow. This isn’t high-brow literature, but it struggles to make sense at points.
I think it’s safe to say that we won’t see these resurrected as mobile apps any time soon. If you disagree, turn to page 118. (I’ll save you the effort: it’s a Game Over page.)