Choose Your Own Nightmare (1995-1997)
Hill, Laban Carrick
Schmidt, William (Bill)
The Choose Your Own Nightmare books have some positives going for them that many other gamebook series don't. The authors seem less afraid of telling a scary story, sometimes even graphically so, and not just leading up to the bad Ends. In Watch Out for Room 13, the descriptions of the rotting ghoul students in your new school are surprisingly detailed, and the play-by-play on the food the ghouls eat borders on disturbing. You won't want to get trapped in the school's refrigerator, believe me. But there's more than provocative descriptive phrases to like about Watch Out for Room 13. The story divides into two significantly different branches near the beginning, though one is much shorter than the other, and either way promises moments of real suspense. As always, illustrator Bill Schmidt adds a lot to the eeriness of the narrative with his noir drawings of the gruesome goings-on, as you and your sister flee the ragged, rotting hands of dozens of ghouls mindlessly reaching to grab hold and turn you, too, into a ghoul. You'll have to use your head to escape the school alive.
After moving to a quiet suburb from your apartment in busy New York City, your family is looking forward to a simpler lifestyle. As much as you favored the move, however, loving the idea of a big backyard to romp around in whenever you want, you're less certain about trying to make friends in a new school. When morning dawns on your first day of attendance, in fact, you've already convinced yourself this can only end in disaster. As you and your twin sister Hannah head to school, you dread stepping foot inside the building.
Of course, you had no idea how much you should dread it. If you enter the school after approaching and finding it practically deserted, then you're already captives of a horde of ghoul teachers and students. "Ghouls" in Watch Out for Room 13 are basically zombies, wandering flesh eaters with no intelligible brain activity apart from an instinctive desire to feast on human flesh, and you'll have dozens of them on your tail within moments of entering your homeroom with Hannah. You have some advantages over the ghouls, including speed, smarts and that irrepressible will to live which buoys all living beings, but you must use these advantages wisely if you hope to escape. Barricade yourself in rooms that can act as temporary strongholds against the ghoulish invaders, crawl through the school's ceiling tunnels in a mad dash for freedom as the ghouls stagger around less than ten feet beneath you, but you might require a bit of luck, as well, to aid your successful flight from the baddies. If you can connect with the one local girl curious enough to come take a peek inside the school on Ghoul Day, an outside liaison who knows the school's layout and is capable of guiding you to safety, your chances of making it out alive will improve.
If upon reaching the book's first decision, you choose to turn away from the apparently empty schoolhouse and go home, you'll find terror delayed, but terror still the same. Your father is between jobs right now, and he has a few details to fill you in on about the haunted history of your new neighborhood. Legend has it some questionable zoning policies have brought the dead rising from their graves seeking vengeance, though of course that can't be true, right? But horror is just a misstep or two in any direction as you and your father innocently work to unpack your family's belongings in your new home. If you're not cautious, you could be in even more danger here than at the school.
The most notable innovation of Watch Out for Room 13 is the "terror test" on page ninety-one, which no storyline leads to directly. You'll have to flip there on your own after finishing the book, as per the instructions on the "Warning!" page. After taking the test, you'll be granted access to the story's epilogue, though I can't say either available End is particularly desirable. If you worked hard to arrive at a happy ending in the main story, then you might want to skip the terror test and bonus Ends. The idea behind Watch Out for Room 13 has enormous potential, capable of generating a terrific gamebook, and one does see glimpses of that potential. I think one hundred four pages wasn't enough space for the author to develop the narrative into everything it could have been, however, though Laban Carrick Hill makes a strong effort. All in all, Watch Out for Room 13 is a fun gamebook I wouldn't mind reading again sometime.
|Waluigi Freak 99's Thoughts:||
Watch Out for Room 13! has a few continuity errors, but it's interesting enough to hold you. It's not groundbreaking, but the story works. The scary elements work better than, say, a Give Yourself Goosebumps book, but ultimately are underwhelming. The bravery test at the end of the book was enjoyable, though.
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