Monday, January 17, 2011

Nintendo Adventure Books 1: Double Trouble

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the better part of the last two and a half decades, you know about Mario, savior of the Mushroom Kingdom. Scourge of the Koopa Clan. Star of some of the most unwatchable TV and movie adaptations of an enjoyable videogame ever made. Can everyone’s favorite clog-cleaner still be fun when there’s a different take on making his adventures interactive? Let’s find out.

The book opens on Mario waking up in the middle of the night thanks to the Mushroom Kingdom alarm going off. When he tries to call Princess Toadstool to find out what’s up he finds out Luigi used up all their minutes and he can’t get through. Speaking of Luigi, the younger Mario Brother is nowhere to be found. Eventually getting sick of the buzzers Mario goes to check things out by himself and finds twice as many Koopa monsters as usual running around.

Since the Mario games are all about escaping traps and obstacles, when confronted with one the book usually doesn’t just give you a choice. Most of the time there’s a puzzle telling you the smart thing to do, if you can solve it. Given that the books were written before the idea that people over the age of twelve played videogames had occurred to anyone besides gamers, that’s usually not hard.

Taking a cue from Super Mario Bros. 3, there’s an inventory system in place and most of the items to be found are from that game. Mind it’s possible to win without needing any of them, but making things a little easier is what power-ups are there for in the games, right? When in doubt, break something, indeed.

There’s also a scoring system in play, where you get points for collecting coins, and the more you have by the time you get a Game Over, the higher your rank. You only need to find 30 coins to get the highest rank, though, and at least in this book it’s not hard for a thorough reader to get the highest rank even if they lose. This is especially true because the book’s divided into two sections where in the first it’s pretty hard to get killed. Even if you make the wrong choice you’ll usually be given another chance. Once Mario’s inside the Koopa fortress, though, all bets are off. Which really is as it should be.

Mechanically there isn’t much wrong with the book, and Clyde Bosco's writing is actually pretty good for something aimed at a young audience. The only thing really hurting it is the premise is kind of pointless when the Koopa armies always seemed basically unlimited in the games anyway. Plus the encounters are extremely standard fare for a Mario game; who hasn’t blasted through a zillion interchangeable dark, forbidding fortresses?

Then again, it’s hard to name an interactive book series that didn’t begin with a generic entry.

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