When I was 12 or 13 years old, I used to finish school and visit my mother in our photography shop to get a snack before heading home, since in Spain dinner is a lot later than in most other countries. I would get 200 pesetas (about £2 or 5$) to go and get a sandwich, a cake or whatever I wanted.
What I wanted was a Fighting Fantasy or a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
I would go to the only bookshop in my hometown that stocked the books and get the one I still didn’t have. Then rush home and spend the rest of the evening eagerly reading and playing them, much to the neglect of my homework. The number of times I got into trouble for that is unheard of!
I have never regretted those times for a single second.
So, bring time forward nearly 25 years and I happen to hear that game-books like the ones I used to enjoy so much are coming to the iPad thanks to Tin Man Games. I gleefully get to the App Store and get The Temple of the Spider God. No less because it has been written by Jonathan Green, who is a veteran of Fighting Fantasy books.
So what do you get?
When you download the book, you get a map of Orlandes (where the adventures take place), your achievements, the history of Orlandes, your options, rules, the gamebooks catalogue and, of course the gamebook itself.
The book has it’s own dice roller and everything happens on the screen as and when you need to. Somehow they’ve managed to make them very satisfying dice to roll! They bounce very nicely and, since the results determine whether you survive or not, you want to roll as high as you can.
Once you’ve got the rules off the way, in about 5 minutes, you generate your character. That is as simple as choosing a name, choosing what level of difficulty you want to play, and then some basic attributes, like your vitality.
And then the adventure begins. You start to read the book and within a few pages you’re presented with the first choice. If you want to do one thing, go to page xxx. If you want to do something else instead, go to page yyy. And the adventure progresses.
Throughout the book, some gorgeous illustrations will give you an idea of what’s happening. My little rant… there aren’t enough of them.
That is not true, there are plenty to give you an idea of what’s going on, but the existing ones are so lovely that I wanted to see a lot more of them. They really leave you wanting to see more and more! Terrific style and the art direction fits perfectly.
The book can be read both landscape and portrait without loosing the formatting, so the programming and the thinking behind the whole concept. You can also change the font to something less fancy. Something the dyslexics like me will appreciate.
The story is, to say the list gripping. You’re a conquistador who is given the task to find out where the most recent threat to the realm come from. Before long you’ll be on a journey full of adventure and even fuller with danger. And it is very dangerous indeed.
Playing the game can be frustrating at times. A bad roll of dice can mean you die within a couple of rolls and have to start again. Even though you can use some of the bookmarks to save the location of your progression, it is fairly easy to forget and it is a very “you live or you die” sort of adventure.
However, once you get into it and have got to grips with the book, you’ll be well happy you started. You’ll find yourself in the bus, shaking your device trying to make the dice fall in a favourable position while you quietly shout “nononononononono… dammit!” or “c’monc’monc’mon… yesssss!”. Trust me… I know!
The story is just fantastic, the writing is very appropriate, without being pedantic nor sloppy, provides with plenty of descriptions clear enough to help create a good visual reference in your mind of where you are and what’s happening. And it is a lot deeper than you expect too. It was only after the first time I rushed to the end, and the book begun to ask me if I had items I should have collected in the way, that I realised how much more to it there was. And I had to start again. With pleasure.
If you are a parent, you must buy this book and read it with your children. I can’t wait to visit my family over Christmas and play it with my nieces. If you are one of those lucky ones who grew up with Fighting Fantasy, this the time to have a good time again. Great story, easy mechanics and a ton of fun!
The temple of the Spider God is available from the App Store