Saturday, December 1, 2012

Golem Gauntlet by Simon Christopher Chapman

This was an interesting and fun gamebook. Like many others, I didn't make it all the way through due to the preponderance of blind choices. Well, I should say I didn't make it to the ultimate ending; I did die more than once.

I really like the premise, of being trapped in a golem's body and having to find your way back to your own, through series of other Golem's bodies. Very imaginative and very cool. I thought the writing was generally pretty solid, although the villain was a little bit overly maniacally evil. I prefer a stronger villain with more character motivation beyond just "I'm eeeevil, pass me that bowl of kittens so I can EAT them. Bwahahahaha!" A good villain is one that, though you may not agree with their decisions, you can at least understand and empathize with them.

The only problem with the approach of this gamebook is, well, two things: Time and again you're asked to choose whether to go right or left, up or down, which item to examine... all of these are blind choices, and they drive me nuts. Beyond that, the path seems to be extremely linear: there's one true way, and any other route will swiftly get you killed.

This comes across as frustrating because it feels a bit arbitrary. Like, because I went the wrong direction I got killed by a fomorian giant. Or archers with flaming arrows kill me on 5 chances out of six. What fun is that? I re-iterate Dave Morris' statement, "If the reader ever reaches a death paragraph, that's a failure not just for the reader, but for the author."

On the linear point, I want to mention that I was also disappointed to find that I didn't have any control over when I shifted bodies. One of the things I got kind of excited about, upon finding another golem form, was the prospect of getting to pick whether to switch or stay in the first one. That could be a great tactical element too--have to take the wood form to do this part of the adventure, but then switch back to clay for the fight against the fire monster--or something along those lines. I feel like the gamebook really failed to capitalize on it's own strengths.

All that said, it was still a fun and imaginative adventure. Too hard for my tastes, with altogether too many "Which door" choices, but... well, if this had been a smaller competition, this probably would have stood out as a very fine entry. It's good--it's just that some of the others it's up against are great.

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