Adventures of Goldhawk
Nicholson, Russ (interior)
And so the series ends in a high with Goldhawk's fourth adventure. This one sees you and your constant companions Edge and Orlando journeying into Ghost World, a land populated by ghosts, and for some reason, Gypsies. Darkmoon is set to marry the evil Princess Jet, ruler of the Ghost World and it's up to you to crash his wedding. With more forgiving dice rolls and several routes to the end, this book is certainly a lot more fun than the previous three and the encounters and plot show a bit more imagination. Quite often there are advantages and disadvantages to your handling of each encounter meaning it requires more judgement than simply trying to guess what the author wants you to do. There's a low count of puzzles (although there are a couple, which is more than can be said for Mudworm Swamp), but as puzzles weren't the strongest point of the first two books this is a small loss. The writing is still fun as are the illustrations.
If there's anything negative to say about the book, it's that the most direct route to success isn't really any harder than some of the more convoluted ones meaning it doesn't really encourage you to explore the book. Also the book offers no dramatic end to the series: Darkmoon is still at large and you're still stuck in Goldhawk's body, although this might be because perhaps this was not meant to be the last book.
So I got the dice out (last seen in action against Bloodbones), and launched a bid to adventure through Ian Livingstone's Adventures of Goldhawk #4: Ghost Road, subtitled "First Fighting Fantasy Adventures".
In it you play a real-world usurper of King Goldhawk of Karazan, striving to prevent the marriage of the chaos-wizard Darkmoon and his consort Princess Jet, at the behest of the ancient wizard Marris. Accompanying you on your jaunt are your buddies Edge, a talking sword, and Orlando, the Tin Pig.
The adventure consists of 21 sections, plus background. Each section, except the last, is further split into 3 to 6 subsections, for a grand total of around 101 sections altogether, all lavishly illustrated in colour by Russ Nicholson.
First impressions: Amazingly, for a Livingstone book, I completed it first time around, with the set starting SKILL of 8, and just 2 combats - a Brass Man and a pack of Ghouls – with 4 necessary items and two optional ones. Combat is very different – there is no STAMINA score and you are effectively testing both you and your opponents SKILL scores to see who wins. It is easy to lose SKILL points though, and once that happens you'll probably keep hemorrhaging them until you are dead...
- Again, remarkably for a Livingstone book, there's at least 2 separate paths to success, each with their own minor variations. There's a spend-all-your-money and have slightly easier dice-rolls, versus hoard-some-cash and have trickier rolls.
- The map is fairly linear, except when it gets to the ghost town of Misery, where it suddenly branches out rather spectacularly in all directions.
- The artwork certainly has its good points – the Skull Tree, the [Gypsy] travellers, the Vampire Bats (Bats being a Russ Nicholson specialty dating all the way back to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain), the various 'phases' (or should that be 'faces') of the Moon, the second-to-last picture of Marris and his Giant Eagle watching the sun dawn over the Stonefinger Hills, the Brass Man.
- If the Goldhawk Adventures ever achieve the impact of Star Wars in the distant future, then the creatures in the background of section 5 are to Goldhawk what the Bounty Hunters are to The Empire Strikes Back.
- Russ Nicholson was probably working on the drafts of the Fabled Lands gamebooks at roughly the same time, and it shows in the Uttakin-influenced masks/faces of both Princess Jet and the robed Skeleton from section 1.
- Some of the artwork isn't so great. Professor Graymane looks like an anorexic Christopher Walken; on the last page the wizard Marris morphs into Boris the Bullet Dodger from Guy Ritchie's Snatch; and the Ghost Giant is just a bit lame.
- The Roadhogs, Razorhead, and the Shrieker are not so much poor artwork as just silly encounters. And why do we need a Shrieker when we've already had Banshees and Horned Shriekers in earlier books in the series?
- What's the deal with Simon Dewey's cover on the UK edition? Is it the Zombie or the robed Skeleton? It's the mid-90's – why does Goldhawk need a blonde mullet?
- I could have done without the Chocolate Slug and Maggot Assortment, Fungus Tortillas, Maggots En Croute, Ratatouille (with real rats), Sugared Bluebottles, Fermented Slug Juice, and the rather silly Poopoo Berry Elixir. Surely these people eat real food!?!
- If Princess Jet is such a kickass super-bad uber-babe (an ice- generating demi-ghost with poisonous fingernails), why the hell is she marrying a mincing little prat like Darkmoon? He can't even fight his way out of the coils of a length of Ghost Vine (or Rope).
- Get this: You've banished Princess Jet to the depths of a broken Trapping Mirror. Darkmoon is more tightly bound than an Analander in a Holding Jacket. Guests (all supposedly hardened Chaotic types) mill around uselessly. What do you do? What you want to do is draw that bloody sword Edge and run Darkmoon through there and then. What you actually do is run away, leaving the prime evil instigator of all four Darkmoon books flapping about like a dismembered Zombie, free to return and concoct yet more schemes against the Kingdom of Karazan! Noooooo!
I was pleasantly surprised – it's multi-path, and thus has replay value, combat is not always a necessity, there's a few but not too many items to collect and it does have a quirky, interesting feel to it. The illustrations are generally pretty good. It's not a classic by any means but it is far less frustrating than many standard FF gamebooks. The main letdown is the quality of the writing – sure it's Ian Livingstone, but this is a guy who made millions off the back of kids like me buying Deathtrap Dungeon, City of Thieves, and Island of the Lizard King. More than ten years later we have him writing down to similar kids, a generation along, in such a demeaning and immature fashion it makes you cringe. If as a 10 year old I could enjoy Deathtrap Dungeon as good solid bloodthirsty entertainment, then I'm sure in 1995, another 10 year old could do the same, but certainly not with this patronising level of, well, I hesitate to call it writing.
|Special Thanks:||Thanks to Nicholas Campbell for the cover scan.|
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