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Item - Haunted Island

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Series: Stephen Thraves Compact Adventure Gamebooks — no. 1
Translated Into: La isla de los fantasmas (Spanish)
L'isola degli spiriti (Italian)
Prizrachniyat ostrov [Призрачният остров] (Bulgarian)
Author: Thraves, Stephen
Illustrator: Dennis, Peter
Date: 1993
ISBN: 0340588594 / 9780340588598
Length: 176 sections
Number of Endings: 1 (not including failure caused by ghostly encounters)
User Summary: Your summer job helping out at a museum becomes more interesting when the curator, Mr. Drabb, offers to take you to a spooky island in search of golden goblets hidden centuries ago by an ill-fated girl.
Demian's Thoughts:

For a while, Stephen Thraves was one of England's most prolific gamebook authors. Many of his works featured some of the highest production values ever seen in gamebooks, with high-quality paper and many extras including custom dice and fancy cards. In spite of this, his name is rarely mentioned in discussions of interactive fiction, and the rare mentions are never positive. If this book is representative of the author's work, this isn't too surprising -- attractive gimmicks can't conceal the fact that the adventure simply isn't very interesting.

The game system here is quite simple -- during the course of your adventure, you may encounter ghosts and goblets. Ghosts are bad, and if you run across four of them, your adventure ends due to fear. Goblets are good, and you want to find all five of them before you leave the island. Three inventory items may also be discovered along the way: a map, a scroll and a book of crests. All three of these are pictured in full color on the book's fold-out flaps and may not be examined until they are found.

In terms of story, the operative word here is bland. The ghost story is all too familiar, and it isn't fleshed out to any interesting degree during the course of the adventure. The various ghostly encounters during the game are neither scary nor intriguing -- most consist solely of an illustration of a Casper-style ghost. The creepy locations could certainly have evoked some atmosphere, but the stormy island exterior and dank castle interior are so standard-issue that they make no impression whatsoever. A little bit of attention to detail can be found in the book's portrayal of the secondary characters, Mr. Drabb and his droopy dog Cheerful, but unfortunately the attention is given repeatedly to the same details, and it only serves to emphasize how one-dimensional everyone is.

Gameplay is no better. Every time you read the book, the sequence of events is just about the same -- you visit the same general areas in the same general sequence, and in each area you have a chance of finding an inventory item or a goblet if you make the right decisions. The biggest problem here is that practically every decision in the book is completely arbitrary -- most are of the "go left or right" variety, with the closest to strategic decision-making coming from the "do you do it, or do you have Mr. Drabb/Cheerful do it" choices. The inventory items, which provide answers to otherwise random choices about map locations and symbol meanings, feel like a missed opportunity for a little puzzle solving. However, since there is no strategy, no puzzle-solving, and no randomization (which itself is probably a mercy), solving the book is simply a matter of making random choices and remembering which ones yield good results. The path to victory is fairly straightforward once discovered, so all five goblets can be found in just a few readthroughs with a little luck.

The book isn't completely worthless -- even without an interesting story or strategic gameplay, there's a certain sense of satisfaction in successfully finding all of the hidden goblets. However, there is absolutely nothing memorable or original here, and you won't miss anything by skipping it.

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Special Thanks:Thanks to Braldt Haak for the cover scan.
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