Despite their promise not to stay away quite so long at the end of their last quest to save Zork, it’s been two months since Bill and June smashed the wicked ambitions of Malifestro. They end up in Zork again by accident when trying to save their magic ring from rolling off a cliff, where they learn from their “uncle” that numerous brave adventurers have gone missing in a recently discovered network of caverns.
And no, the first decision of the book isn’t whether to accept the quest or not. That’s the first decision that has any bearing on the plot. The first decision is what the kids want to do on their first day back in Zork, but they end up listening to Syovar’s stories no matter what you pick. Because they feel bad for not doing what poor old uncle Syovar wanted to do. I’m sorry, I just don’t get how Bill and June become people with lives and relatives in Zork whenever they put on the ring, and why I should act as if Syovar’s related to my avatar(s). Even the book describes him as “uncle” in quotations when mentioning him before they travel to Zork.
Oh yeah, the plot. After not deciding to put the book away before the adventure even starts, Bivotar and Juranda are allowed to enter the caverns to go looking for all the missing explorers. And Max and Fred from the last book, because they were such funny and endearing companions, right? (No, they weren’t)
What this means is even more than in the first book, the adventure is devoted to the kids bumping around in caves, interacting with random things they come across and occasionally finding something that will help them on their quest. Not to mention often meeting one of numerous grisly deaths.
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I know this is based on an ancient computer game, but I really must protest that I don’t enjoy games where I’m just wandering around in a nondescript cave where things happen with no rhyme or reason. That The Cavern of Doom puts even more emphasis on this than The Forces of Krill is the book’s first major problem.
|For all the book's faults, this is a pretty darn impressive picture.|
Then there’s the grisly deaths. Looking back, I have no idea how I didn’t have nightmares reading this book as a kid. Besides the various endings where the kids are eaten alive by Grues for wandering around menacing caves without light, there’s the one where they accidentally enter a crematorium and are burned alive by insane robots. Let’s have an ending where a pair of adolescents are jammed in an incinerator. That’s okay for young readers, right?
Instead of being required to find just one item like other books in the series, getting through The Cavern of Doom requires several. I personally liked this, as I thought it helped this feel more like an actual quest game, and made the puzzles feel less like a constant stream of “which tunnel’s less likely to have something that’ll kill me?” This doesn’t change the fact that most of the stuff down there doesn’t make much sense (if the dragon’s been guarding that tunnel for hundreds of years, how did all the explorers get past him?). Also the puzzles feel inconsistent at times. One requires finding several gems to bribe someone, and so an ending where you’re killed for trying to claim a treasure chest feels like a cop-out. Oh, you wanted me to do that before but not now, huh? Okay.
I will say this about the book, unlike the two preceding it the kids don’t go through hell and back just to have Syovar fight the main bad guy for them. Still, it’s too little, too late.