Monday, January 17, 2011

Nintendo Adventure Books 12: Brain Drain

Mario and Luigi are fixing the Mushroom King’s giant soda machine (his doctor told him to change his diet so he drinks a different kind of soda every day, hyuk hyuk) when some weird radio static not only gives Yoshi the ability to talk, but makes him evil. People all over the kingdom are hearing this weird static and finding themselves in different bodies.

So in the last and definitely worst of the Nintendo Adventure Books, the writer’s resorted to what in my mind is the most trite and overused premise for an episodic series: the Freaky Friday plot. And it’s all downhill from there.

The story seems to just get dumber the deeper the reader gets into it. The brain-switching becomes more widespread the closer they get to Dinosaur Land, so that’s where our heroes figure the source must be. Um, it’s caused by static between broadcasts from a particular radio station. So how…? And on the way over Mario invents a helmet to keep its wearer from having their brain switched, a plunger with some wires on it, and it just so happens the Koopas have invented the exact same thing to protect themselves from their own weapon. Convenient, isn’t it? And to show just how out of ideas the series was, there was a giant duck doctor in the previous book and a giant goose psychiatrist in this one.

Mechanically, the game is about as busted as its predecessor. I know in the Unjust Desserts review I complained about how the constant reminders that Mario was, you know, small, were unnecessary. On the other hand, something that did slip my mind reading this as a child (which, after all, was the target audience) was that Luigi would lose access to the stuff his regular body had when he was switched into the body of a Koopa Troopa. It honestly didn’t occur to me, but maybe that’s partly because by the time Brain Drain came out I’d been reading Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf for a while, and if your stuff was gone or confiscated the book told you exactly what to do when it happened.

The first puzzle involves a chessboard where each square’s supposed to have a letter saying where Luigi should movie if he lands on it, but the letters are actually printed off to the side. And why exactly is there a picture of a stadium at the top of the board when Luigi’s in the underbelly of the palace? For that matter, why is this left up to a puzzle when it’s a question of “does Luigi bring Mario his special monkey wrench or turn off the radio”? Why not be one of those puzzles where it gives you a clue to the correct choice instead?

There’s a puzzle like the bug one from the previous book where the player randomly gains or loses points, and what happens next depends on their score. At least in Unjust Desserts this was a legitimate obstacle Mario was confronted with, combined with the facts that he didn’t really know where he was going and trying to go one of two specific ways would be hard when you’re jumping onto the backs of countless swarming insects. Here, the point of the puzzle is to determine whether Luigi decides to follow Mario or the princess. Sorry, what? For what it’s worth this particular puzzle almost seems to be an apology for the bug one where you lost further points for ending up at the low score path, as in this book if you end up at the low score path it’s a bit longer and you get the chance to earn more points before the two paths converge.

Props to the writer for revealing the solution to the problem in subliminal rock lyrics, if nothing else.

(How appropriate)

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