Monday, January 17, 2011

The Video Avenger

TRON. Captain N. People seem to love ‘em or hate ‘em. Same with another book from the Twistaplot series of days long ago, The Video Avenger.

Twistaplot was one of the many series that sprang up in the mid-80’s hoping to get a piece of the Choose Your Own Adventure pie. Most of the Twistaplot books were pretty stupid, but The Video Avenger is…well, less stupid than most.

As a reward for eating 4,789 cheeseburgers, you’ve won an all-new super awesome computer with 64K whole bytes of RAM! Just as you’re thinking of all the fun you’re going to have playing Deathbeam Dinosaurs on this puppy, you open it up and find out it’s a supercomputer with a voice and brain meant for that top secret lab down the street. You’d think a government lab that needed “high wire fences and armed guards” wouldn’t be using the same shipping service to move their evil AI’s around as a fast food company. Or that a sentient computer would be designed to trap people inside it by beating them at videogames.

Before you can say, “I love the Power Glove, it’s so bad,” you’ve been zapped into the cockpit of a rocketship getting blasted at by a multi-headed dino. That sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?

If you were expecting to be transported into a realm where games are real, though, you’re in for a disappointment. Instead, if you manage to escape the Deathbeam Dinosaurs, which doesn’t take long because it’s hard to write a fun dogfight scene, most paths involve you running around in the shiny innards of the computer ducking its guards and looking for a way out.

The main problem with The Video Avenger is how it misrepresents itself. From looking at the title, cover and glancing over the “how to read this book” page on the inside, it looks like a swashbuckling adventure that’s kind of fun and a little whimsical. Not a book where you’re a basically helpless in a battle for your life with an electronic madman where the first slip-up could be your last. “You will compete with the machine in all kinds of games and electronic challenges. Make the right moves, and you will have a lot fun,” indeed.

That’s not to say there aren’t some interesting characters lurking inside your new computer. The Gladiator was a pretty nasty piece of work, and the encounter with him involved a light saber battle which was a childhood dream for many. There’s Cluster, your telepathic copilot, and the Glitch, a valuable ally who has no business being in an ultra-advanced self aware computer. And of course everyone else who played the computer and lost before you.

Maybe they’re why if you do end up in another game, it usually means you can look forward to a messy death in the immediate future. Then again, you can look forward to a lot of messy deaths, period. This computer may not have anything on its chips and bits bigger than tormenting kids after luring them in with their favorite videogames, but it’s not screwing around. The sheer volume of nasty endings to good ones may not really be that high for these books, but it really helps the feeling that the computer knows what you’re up to and enjoys toying with you.

So while it’s annoying that The Video Avenger ends up being less about playing videogames from the inside and more about beating a demented computer before it can zap you into binary code, the stories of you trying to escape are if nothing else pretty cohesive with a decent atmosphere.

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