Puffin Books, £3.99, ISBN 0-14-034366-0
Series: Fighting Fantasy
Spectral Stalkers is a dungeon crawl, but it tries to be an interesting one. Instead of being set on the world of Titan, this one takes the hero to the Microcosmos, what seems to be the galaxy of which Titan is just one of the planets. What happens here is: you, the hero, is wandering around a fairground in Khul, doing whatever it is that good heroes do, when you encounter an extraordinary never-seen-before dying creature literally falling from the sky ahead of you. He passes you the Aleph, a strange orb that allows its holder to teleport to the various worlds in the Microcosmos.
One thing you’re told before that thing croaks is that you must keep the Aleph safe from beings known as Spectral Stalkers. Unfortunately, the Spectral Stalkers are already on to you so you have to start moving right away. The creature also mentions “Archmage Globus”, so you decide to seek out this fellow for advice on what to do with the Aleph.
Spectral Stalkers has a whole bunch of very interesting worlds and scenarios for you to stumble upon while using the Aleph, including a memorable spacecraft in a scene that is a tribute to the old movie The Forbidden Planet. But here’s the thing: it is very easy to accidentally end up skipping all these scenes altogether and still succeed in completing the book and reaching the triumphant ending. In fact, it is noted that one can complete this baby in 17 turns of the pages. The difficulty level is fair, but there is a big flaw here in that the design allows me to accidentally complete the story without knowing what hit me.
Therefore, this gamebook is a strange one in that it is more enjoyable to cheat and explore all possible locations in the Microcosmos instead of trying to play it straight. This one may be an interesting take on the old-fashioned dungeon crawl, but its design could have been tightened with all the loopholes that allow one to take shortcuts removed or made less accessible. I am giving Spectral Stalkers three oogies because it is an interesting gamebook, conceptually, since it’s pretty much a create your own MST3K adventure, but the final rating comes with some reservations nonetheless.
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