Scholastic, $3.99, ISBN 0-590-39998-5
One of the interesting allegations that came out during the lawsuit drama between the publisher and RL Stine’s team back in those days was that the Goosebumps books utilized ghostwriters as the author’s to-write list grew longer and longer amidst tight deadlines. Whether or not that allegation was true, Checkout Time at the Dead-End Hotel is an anomaly in the Give Yourself Goosebumps line: it only has one route instead of the usual two, and you actually have to make the correct choices and remember the right details in order to get the best happy ending. The puns are minimal; whoever wrote this thing actually assumed that this one is a “real” gamebook, heh.
You and three classmates are packed in the car driven by BJ Matson’s mother, but the car has problems, and soon you are all left behind in the middle of the road right at night. You and your classmates are all on your way to Washington, DC for a class trip, but it looks like you are going nowhere now until the car gets fixed. As it’s late, you all check into Hotel Morte – the Dead Hotel, if you insist on speaking only English – and before you know it, all of you are trapped in a haunted hotel with all the doors and windows locked shut. Your hope of escape lies in locating someone called Drew Mortegarth – who manages to call you with a warning and a plea to locate that person in order to save yourselves – but who knows where that fellow is among these ghost-infested hallways!
Right off the bat, you will notice cute homages to The Shining and the presence of bizarre yet surprisingly appropriate elements such as rabid, evil versions of the Seven Dwarves. The entire campaign has a perfect pitch of creepiness and danger to it, and some of the bad endings are pretty dark and even grown up in nature. My favorite is the one where you become another ghost in the hotel, and you decide to ask all your classmates to come so that they will also die and keep you company forever.
The campaign is pretty challenging, and it may take a few tries on your part to find the best happy ending.
However, two things keep this one from being great. One, there are just too many characters here – most of them are useless or, worse, serve as baggage that need to be rescued (you need to save them all in order to get the best ending). If it had been only you and a friend, things wouldn’t have felt too spread out and underdeveloped in this campaign.
The bigger problem here is how bloody stupid you and your friends can be. Doing obviously dangerous and likely fatal things because your idiot friends dare you to is just the tip of the iceberg here, and some of the catastrophically dumb antics take place during a scene with no way of you stopping the impending disaster from happening. Hence, while there are many good elements of horror and homage in this campaign, the main characters are frankly often too stupid to be worth the bother.
Such a shame, really, as this is easily one of the best structured campaigns in the entire line. It’s probably worth a play or two if you don’t mind the jaw-dropping idiocy of your character and his friends that run rampant throughout the campaign. With friends that dare you to eat obviously poisoned or worse foods even after receiving warning about these foods… you need better friends, period.