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Item - The Secret of Mystery Hill

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Series: Choose Your Own Adventure (1979-1998) — no. 141
Translated Into: El secreto de la colina del misterio (Spanish)
Author: Wilhelm, Doug
Illustrators: Schmidt, William (Bill) (cover)
La Padula, Tom (interior)
Date: 1993
yunakitty's Thoughts:

Oh, man. This book was just a hot mess. Overuse of looping back into the story, and a general feeling of randomness mar the book. It just never seems like sensible choices ever turn out well. (I seem to alternate books so that I get one "being brave and reckless leads to success" and then one "being brave and reckless leads to death" in turn so that I never get settled!)

I asked my husband recently whether or not he liked CYOAs as a kid since he's never really expressed any opinion towards my collection, other than to ridicule the artwork in most of them and make me laugh until I cry. He told me they always made him mad because he'd always get death on his first readthrough, so he'd stop reading. I never looked at them that way before, as an actual game where you are trying to get the best ending on the first try. I've always tackled them as "read the entire book" and I mark out decision pages with postit notes so that I can go back as soon as I reach an ending, and keep going. I really didn't care if I got a bad ending, I just wanted to read it all. I knew I'd get to the good ending(s) eventually. So, to make it a little more fun, I've tried to take on his strategy of trying for the best ending right away. Boy, this was not the one to try it on! At the very first choice you are presented with, I picked the one that had "Mystery Hill" in it since I figure you're trying to figure out the secret, right? Well, that choice led to only one more choice, which led to two endings. One was a terrible, "you die, learning nothing, solving nothing" and the other was a "You're back home safe, but what was that all about?" - very unsatisfying. And they weren't just abrupt endings. The death one involved you meeting a native tribe, befriending them and coming up with a plan to defeat the bad guys. There were no choices at all, yet it spanned at least 6 pages of story. I really felt like I was on my way to the ultimate ending, but nope. Changing conventions is supposed to be a good thing, but I didn't enjoy it very much in this book.

Also, there were a lot of places in the book where it felt like there should have naturally been a choice. For example, after you scare off a Saxon warrior, the text reads "You wonder whether or not you should pick up his sword and shield." Perfect chance for a choice there, but no, the author (who by the way I've never heard of before, so maybe it was his first foray into gamebooks, and in that case, I forgive him for this mess) just plows right along with the story, having you pick up the equipment. Later on in that arc, it's possible to be killed by the good guys because of that non-choice, since they see the enemy's equipment on you and attack.

The story matter is interesting, if a little unbelievable, but it is fantasy, after all.

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