I had fond memories of the Adventures of Goldhawk from when I bought all four when I was ten years old and I have been going back over them recently to see if they were as good as I remember. The answer is probably not, but they're not a total waste of time either, although Darkmoon's Curse is hardly the strongest of the series.
The plot is pretty basic. Whilst reading about the events of a magical kingdom called Karazan, YOU are magically transported into Karazan by the wizard Marris (whose name just makes me think of Niles' wife in Frasier) and made to look like Prince Goldhawk. The real Goldhawk is poisoned and unable to lead his people in their hour of need and rather than revealing this to the populace, Marris has decided to make a new Goldhawk and keep the real one hidden. Marris is keen to profess that the real Goldhawk will be returned to the throne once he recovers, though this fact becomes forgotten in the later books. Anyway, rather than going ballistic with Marris for sucking you out of your own world without even asking you, you agree to recover the Crown of Karazan from the rather camp wizard Darkmoon's clutches with the assistance of your wimpy tin pig friend Orlando and your bitchy talking sword Edge. And that's pretty much it. It's written in a simplistic, but jovial fashion that does the job nicely and accompanied by Russ Nicholson's able artwork (even if he's better suited to black and white).
The structure of the book is pretty linear; there's very few places where you can venture off the one true path, and there is one tough combat you have to fight to win, although it is possible to get the odds slightly in your favour. Rather annoyingly though, for a book with so few sections, two pretty obvious errors make it even shorter. Two encounters can be avoided by drinking a Potion of Good Fortune, but it is impossible to reach these encounters without having drunk the potion making them a waste of sections. There's a few puzzles to crack along the way, all of which are fairly basic (although I suppose it was intended for younger readers, but even so it would be a pretty dumb 7 year old who couldn't crack the language of the Blue Mice). At any rate the book shouldn't take too long to beat as it's just a matter of trial and error until you find the correct route.
As far as characters go, your own character is presented as a boring Mary Sue, Darkmoon and Edge have their moments, but Orlando's character is shown more through the numerous pictures of him with a worried expression that it is by the prose. Few of the creatures of Karazan are memorable, the Big Blue Mice being more weird than wonderful and the others being standard Livingstone-esque creatures. Darkmoon's Curse isn't bad. It's quite linear, but it's got fun writing and characters and has a reasonable difficulty level.
There have been some decent gamebooks targeted at the younger end of the market. Regrettably, this is not one of them.
What of the plot? With the kingdom facing a terrible threat, the court sorceror casts a spell to bring the reader into the world. You then assume the rôle of a local character, take up a talking magic sword, and confront the evil wizard responsible for the realm's troubles. So far, so Grailquest. However, J. H. Brennan doesn't write down to his audience like Mr Livingstone does here, and his humour tends to be funny. Edge, the sword, lacks the character of GQ's EJ, while your other sidekick, an animated tin pig who used to be a Dwarf, owes his personality far more to the illustrations (which are very good) than to the writing. There isn't even a decent villain, Darkmoon's juvenile antics removing any sense of menace from the climactic confrontation.
The adventure is typical Livingstone - an item hunt, where you're doomed if you take the wrong turning (except, strangely enough, for the time when there's been a hint as to the correct route) - with a few simplistic puzzles along the way. Combat is straightforward, but as per most of Livingstone's gamebooks there's an unavoidable fight with an opponent at least as powerful as you. While this isn't as bad as the multitudes of double-figure Skill scores that crop up in so many of his end games, it's still frustrating to fail repeatedly just for not throwing 9 or above at the right moment.
The book has several errors, too. On more than one occasion you're asked if you've taken a certain course of action even though you've passed the point at which anyone who didn't do so would already have died. And while the book's use of sub-sections makes it less of a problem than it would be in most gamebooks, the lack of a 'none of the above' option when trying to trade items is still a bug.
Ultimately, I found this a disappointing adventure. If you're after the book for the artwork, go ahead. Russ Nicholson's pictures cover over a multitude of sins. If your main interest is the writing, you'd better be a big fan of the Livingstone style.
Some time ago I found a copy of the first volume in the Adventures of Goldhawk series (also called Fighting Fantasy First Adventures), Darkmoon's Curse. This is the only title in the series I've read, but I'm posting this review in the hope that I'll be able to hook people to the series in the same way I'm hooked right now.
The entire series is authored by Ian Livingstone and illustrated by Russ Nicholson. Personally, I prefer to see Russ' work in black & white, but I think his use of color isn't bad at all. As a nice touch, it also includes some of the old filler art for the Fighting Fantasy RPG by Duncan Smith (the sword, mice and skulls), which I've always been fond of. The idea of the series is to introduce pre-teens to the Fighting Fantasy concept, so you get the standard "you're a warrior setting of on a quest to save the world" story. The monsters and setting are typical Livingstone stuff; in fact, I wonder why he bothered to create yet another fantasy world - with absolutely nothing to distinguish it from Titan - instead of setting the stories in Titan itself. The only new creatures I can identify are some intelligent mice and the rather unimaginative Skullbeast. It would have been nice to see the world of Titan develop further. Gameplay is also very simple, with the player having to keep track of only three things: a SKILL score, which acts as both fighting ability and hit points, money and inventory list. Don't let my harsh words discourage you from trying it, though. As a matter of fact, upon finishing it, I must say I agree with the Robsterman's review in fightingfantasy.com. The book's appearance may deceive some into thinking this book is a waste of time, but it really isn't.
Despite having only 83 sections, I'm still surprised at how many tries it took me to complete the adventure successfully. Gameplay, also, is not as frustrating as in some of Ian's FF books, like Freeway Fighter and Crypt of the Sorcerer. You'll need to collect several items to complete the book, and the monsters are tough enough so as to make the book neither a nightmare nor a cakewalk. Overall, the book is very satisfying even if you're an adult. This is not an essential FF adventure, but I would recommend it to two kinds of people:
1. Those who want to introduce young ones into the hobby;
2. Those who have played everything else in the FF series and still starve for some more adventure.
So, FF fanatics, please don't overlook this series.
|Special Thanks:||Thanks to Nicholas Campbell for the British cover scan.|
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