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Item - Surviving the Underground

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(Paperback edition)
(Paperback edition)

Combined Summary

Series: Undertale — no. 1
Platform: Kindle (Kindle edition)
Author: Wright, John
Dates: March 24, 2017 (Kindle edition)
June 21, 2020 (Paperback edition)
ISBN: 9798655952652 (Paperback edition)
Edition Description: Paperback edition:
This edition has a blank black spine, and no content on the verso of the title page; thus, images of these areas are not provided here.
Length: 99 pages
Number of Endings: 7
User Summary: While on a family vacation, you fall into a hole and find yourself trapped in a strange world populated by monsters.
Demian's Thoughts:

My son is a huge fan of Toby Fox's indie video game Undertale, and so I couldn't resist acquiring a copy of this gamebook adaptation, since I knew he would happily play it with me. We had a good time, but we also confirmed what I suspected all along: this is a huge cash grab, and little else.

Let me start by noting the one positive point of the book: the writing actually isn't bad. There are enough editorial problems (including one game-breaking link typo) to suggest that this didn't get the copy editing attention it required, but the author can put a sentence together, and does manage to capture the general tone of the video game in prose.

Now, the problems, and the reasons I feel this is probably a cynical attempt to cash in on a popular product rather than a good-faith fan effort.

First of all, there is very little creativity at work here. This is a straight adaptation of the first few minutes of the video game... and when I say first few minutes, I really mean that. In 99 pages of content, this only gets to the video game's first boss fight, which essentially means it's adapting the tutorial portion but not really the meat of the game. The only significant ways in which the text diverges from the source material is when it gets things wrong, like repeatedly misspelling the name of the mountain where the story takes place, or misidentifying one of the major characters as a bunny rather than a goat.

The writing also makes a very uncomfortable compromise between adapting the material to work as a stand-alone gamebook, and alluding to the game's deep lore. Some important things are completely ignored, while the book is full of references that would make no sense to someone unfamiliar with the game, but which never pay off due to the brevity of the adventure. It seems unlikely to satisfy anyone.

The gameplay is another failure; the story is simply a linear series of choke points, with a few premature endings thrown in. In some cases you can loop around a little bit before progressing, but there is very little meaningful decision-making on display, at least until the very end... and when the final boss fight occurs, a typo in a reference number makes one of the more desirable endings entirely unreachable. In order to really take advantage of Undertale's unique flavor, it would be necessary for subsequent books to play out differently depending on which ending was reached in the first book. Since there is no mechanism on display here for capturing this, I strongly suspect that the author has no intention of continuing the story (or at least hasn't fully thought it through), even though this one ends with "You have survived book 1," which would seem to imply a pending sequel.

Then there's the cover, which features the fan-favorite characters Sans and Papyrus... who are not in the book at all, not even as a passing reference, since the story in this volume ends well before they are introduced. This seems like an odd choice of illustration, unless you're simply trying to sell books to hapless fans.

And, of course, my final complaint is the price tag. At the time that I purchased this book, it cost more than twice as much as most print-on-demand gamebooks. I paid the price because it seemed worthwhile for a couple nights of family entertainment, but I really expected something more than a small-format 100-page paperback with very little content. Spending the same price on any two of Dave Morris' gamebooks (to pick one random example of an author producing high-quality print-on-demand gamebooks) would give you tremendously more value for your money. I find this doubly offensive because I seriously doubt that this is a licensed product (if it is, it doesn't say so, and its lack of copyright notice makes me suspicious). The author is collecting a lot of royalties by mildly remixing somebody else's intellectual property, and it is clearly not justified by the minimal effort that went into creating this book.

All that being said, other online reviews of this text are generally positive; as I said, the writing isn't terrible, and it seems like young Undertale fans enjoy the gamebook format. It's really too bad that they're not getting a higher-quality product, as there's certainly the potential here for something a great deal better.

More reviews by Demian

Errata:Page 38 should link to page 40, not page 42. Page 84 should link to page 91, not page 82.
Users Who Own This Item: Demian
Users Who Want This Item: NEMO

Known Editions

Kindle edition
Paperback edition

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Related Documents

Structure Diagram

Undertale #1 Map
This file contains a diagram of the flow of the first Undertale gamebook.