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Item - Rescue the Princess

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Series: Rescue the Princess
Author: Turner (United Kingdom), Paul
Illustrators: Lloyd, David
Chapel, Lee
Cruac, Cromm
Lemon, James J.
Nikellis, Kostas
Wilson, Michael
Date: December 12, 2003
ISBN: 0954609204 / 9780954609207
Length: 139 pages (221 sections)
Ed's Thoughts:

This was one of the first new gamebooks to come out in the wake of the Fighting Fantasy Reissues. Released in 2003 with absolutely no fanfare and a rather steep cover price, it must bear some of the responsibility for the lack of a current-day gamebook boom. While far from being bad, it's nothing special, and for practically a tenner you'd want something a good sight more impressive than this.

The main reason for the high cost is RTP's principal gimmick. While there is the usual sort of filler art, the majority of the illustrations are on a CD-ROM provided in a pocket on the back cover. 75 images in total, by 19 different artists. It appears that the pictures came first, and the adventure was written to fit them, but this is only really a problem when Turner attempts to convince us that the baubles on James J. Lemon's Christmas tree are actually fruits. There are a few minor inconsistencies resulting from the use of images by different artists to depict the same characters or places, but nothing too egregious. The CD also contains a hundred images of 2d6, so if you don't have dice, you can open one at random and take that as your roll. Seems a bit impractical to me, but what do I know?

The adventure has 221 sections, though pruning it down to 200 or bulking it out to 225 shouldn't have been too difficult. Still, 221 is what we get, with the victory section hidden away somewhere in the middle for no good reason.

There is a fairly basic system of rules. Four attributes, namely Strength, Health, Luck and IQ, each of which is rolled on 2 dice (with modifiers for most). A pre-generated character is provided, but his stats are below average on everything, so you'd probably be better off rolling up a new one. Opponents just have a Monster Score, which skews combat in the player's favour. You throw 2d6 for your enemy, adding half its MS, and then throw 2d6 for yourself, adding your St. Whoever gets the higher score wins, and the difference is subtracted from the loser's MS or He. Thus, wounds reduce your opponent's prowess in battle, but not your own.

What of the plot? Well, the clue is in the title. Princess Amber has been captured by the Warrior Demon Roger. Seriously, that's his name. A reward has been offered for her rescue, so you (a reasonably experienced adventurer, though your parents originally wanted you to be a bookkeeper) decide to have a go at it. But not before seeking the advice of a good wizard named Brian, who mentions a couple of magical items you might think it worth seeking out before you head to the Lost City to confront Roger.

There's a mildly anachronistic tone to some of the references made over the course of the book, such as the mundane names of the more fantastical characters (there's also an Orc called John in the combat illustration of the rules section, and one named Horace in the actual adventure). Other such oddities include the fact that when the Giant Spiders ambush you, you're gargling the tune to 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat', a mention of your prowess at tennis as you try to fend off a horde of rats, and (rather wonderfully) a label on a healing potion that warns, 'This product may contain traces of nuts.'

The setting isn't quite as 'generic fantasy' as it might seem. You have the usual races, but Elves are hostile and Orcs, while unpleasant, are integrated into society, and only attack you if they think you're trying to rob them. Other details of a type that don't often make it into gamebooks include the existence of basic toilet facilities, and the fact that there are other adventurers around, one of whom might rescue the princess before you get the opportunity to. Oh, and the statue that may tell you some valuable information feels a bit guilty about divulging secrets, which is a nicely original touch.

Many elements of the book suggest quite a young target audience. Things are skewed in your favour a lot of the time, you have the option of buying a bag of mints in the market, and in some places the penalties for failure are a bit light (notably the game of chess agains the pale scythe-bearing stranger, who starts by saying that if he wins he'll take your soul, but then settles on a gold piece instead). Nevertheless, there are a number of ways you can get killed or otherwise fail in your quest, and there are a few possible instances of nasty fates happening to benign characters. A 'kiddie' readership isn't likely to make much of the skimpy costumes worn by several of the female characters depicted, either. In a nice touch of realism, the one who lives in icy climes wraps up warmly outdoors, and only changes into next-to-nothing once she's indoors and next to a massive brazier.

Obtaining the items of which Brian tells you is not essential, though it will massively improve your options in the final battle. One is pretty easy to obtain, as you only have to solve a very simple puzzle and succeed at a trial of strength that is biased in your favour. The other is a fair bit trickier to obtain, but is stored alongside some other items that can be very handy in Roger's domain.

As regards actual errors, there aren't many. Though the usual sort of restrictions on repeated attemps at the same action apply, at one point you may be forced to try something again. Occasionally there's a bit of sloppy grammar, at one point the word 'alter' is used when it should be 'altar' and the odd transition between sections is clumsy.

Most of the illustrations are good, though some look a little too computer-generated. The only really poor one is Michael Wilson's Minotaur, but the rest are scattered along the scale between 'not bad' and 'Wow!' If I had to list a top five, I think I'd go for David Lloyd's Harryhausen-tastic undead army, James J. Lemon Graphics' weird building, Cromm Cruac's crystal cranium (okay, it's a skull, but I couldn't resist the alliteration), Kostas Nikellis' fighting guards in a burning temple and Lee Chapel's She-Orc. Rescue the Princess strikes me as a good gamebook for children. Reasonably challenging, but not too complicated, with jokes that should appeal to their sense of humour, and a good degree of what those ridiculous warnings on movie posters refer to as 'mild peril'. I'd be damning it with faint praise to say that it's far superior to The Adventures of Goldhawk, but there's not a lot else out there that's suitable for comparison. Gamebook veterans will probably find it a bit basic, but it's no walkover, and its occasional deviations from cliché are quite refreshing. The book's biggest problem is that cover price. Unless pocket money's gone up a lot more than I think, 9.99 is quite a substantial outlay for a youngster. And older fans of the genre are liable to want something a good deal more sophisticated for that much. Heck, on a good day you could get Fabled Lands 1 & 2 for less on eBay.

A good try, but probably doomed by its flawed implementation. The publisher's website appears to be defunct, which doesn't really surprise me. A pity, though, as a success might have encouraged other publishers to take a chance on the gamebook 'revival.'

More reviews by Ed

Special Thanks:Thanks to Ed Jolley for the cover scan.
Users Who Own This Item: dArtagnan, Ed, Sir Olli
Users Who Want This Item: Gartax, Waluigi Freak 99
Users with Extra Copies: Sir Olli

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