Knight Books, £3.99, ISBN 0-340-37787-9
Avenger! kicks off the gamebook series called The Way of the Tiger, and this one has one unique selling point. You play a ninja in this one. Yeah, baby, an actual ninja complete with black body suits and split kicks that will make Mark Dacascos proud.
You are an orphan who was placed in the care of the monks devoted to Kwon, the Supreme Master of Unarmed Combat, in the Island of Tranquil Dreams. This island is modeled after feudal Japan, so you grow up learning how to be a kick-ass martial artist under the tutelage and supervision of your foster father, Naijishi. Alas, he died about a year before this campaign begins, slew by a monk named Yaemon. Yaemon is a monk following a rival religion devoted to Vile, Kwon’s hated brother. He stole the Scrolls of Kettsuin after slaying Naijishi, a fact that the monks of Kwon kept a secret… until now.
A ranger from the continent named Glaivas arrives one fine day with dire news: Yaemon has deciphered the content of the Scrolls, content which enables him to know a Word that can condemn gods to a fiery prison of bottomless pit. In three months time, the planets will align in a specific manner called the Grand Conjunction of the Planets and the moon will turn red for three days. Yaemon plans to utter the Word at the Pillars of Change, located far in the icy wastes of the continent, and condemn Kwon to a fiery eternity. He has allies with him, of course – Nemesis, a powerful sorcerer of the big boss God of Evil, Nemesis, as well as Honoric, a powerful swordsman who worships the god Vasch-Ro. Gods play a very important part in this world called Orb – your religion practically defines your personality and alignment. It’s like Forgotten Realms, come to think of it, heh.
At any rate, you volunteer to travel with Glaivas back to the continent of Manmarch, where you will then stake out to stop Yaemon and friends before they succeed in sending a few gods to hell. Because you want to kill Yaemon and avenge Naijishi, you are now called Avenger. This is going to be fun!
The game system is fairly standard, involving rolling of dice. As Avenger, you have 20 Endurance points, which is just enough to win by the skin of your teeth barring any unfortunate incidents like too many unlucky rolls. As a Ninja, you can throw star-shaped missiles called Shurkiens. You can also choose three more out of nine Ninja skills. Poison Needles seem redundant since you already have Shurikens, but don’t forget, you may just kill an opponent outright with a poisoned needle. Some skills are obviously more useful in an “all general purpose” manner while other skills may seem to be useful only in specific situations. However, having the right Ninja skill may make the difference between life and death in many situations, so good luck in picking your Ninja skills, heh.
In addition, as a Ninja you also have access to some really cool martial arts attacks, depicted using nice illustrations and accompanied by “Don’t try this at home!” messages, and even cooler starting items. I especially love the fact that you can use a wire garotte to cut through an opponent’s throat in a sneak attack. Ninjas on Orb beat those puny rogues in Dungeons & Dragons, I tell you.
There are plenty of marvelous violence in this story, which may make this one too sordid for young kids. Oh, who am I kidding, young kids will lap this one up like nobody’s business. The world building is fantastic, as the Manmarch bursts to life with all kinds of color and sounds and sights. From the deadly arena of Mortavalon to the gloomy shadows of Quench-heart Keep, this one is chock full of memorable encounters. The final showdown with the three big bosses are especially gripping. The confrontation with Yaemon is epic, right down to that magnificent cliffhanger ending that compels you to pick up the next gamebook in this series.
Difficulty-wise, well, let’s put it this way: there are a few routes to success in this story, but you won’t succeed if you stumble upon a particular route but lacks an item to get you past. A good example of this is your confrontation with Manse the Deathmage. If you have not picked up some not-so-subtle clues laid out in this campaign about his weakness, you will not survive the encounter with him unless you follow a particular story path that will allow you to pick up a special item. Still, the choices in this campaign isn’t random like some Fighting Fantasy campaign – chances are, if you make decisions just like a Ninja would (remember, you are a sneaky assassin, not a lawful good paladin), you are on the right track.
There are some design flaws, such as the occasional non-continuity when the authors forget that they have given you choices and make specific references in a passage about you picking a particular path that you may not have taken in the first place. Still, there is nothing too distracting here that will reduce the violent fun.
Avenger! is an exotic and giddy gamebook that offers not only a refreshing setting but also plenty of challenging fun to rock your socks off. Ninjas are cool, but this one is even cooler. So what are you waiting for? Grab your garotte wire and let’s start ripping up the place!