Scholastic, $3.99, ISBN 0-590-55323-2
Escape from the Carnival of Horrors is the first gamebook in the Give Yourself Goosebumps series – these are being reviewed out of order, in case you haven’t noticed by now – and it gives you a good idea of what the gamebooks are all about. All the familiar tropes in those Goosebumps stories, now at your disposal to pick and choose as you star in your own kiddie horror tale! Only, things are more linear here, and you are made to do some stupid things here and there to advance the plot without being given any say in the matter. Then again, so long as everyone is having fun, it’s all good, right?
You and your two friends Patty and Brad are bored during your summer vacation, but there is a new fair in town. Since it is dark when you arrive at the site, you decide it’s only right that you sneak inside. How nice – now you can’t say you don’t get what you deserve when the Carnival of Horrors suddenly flare to life and you are invited to explore either the rides or the sideshows. Each path will take you to a spooky adventure involving all kinds of random things, with the sideshow route further branching into two smaller possible routes depending on your choice. All the horror carnival tropes are out in full force tonight, so buckle up and enjoy the show…
The LOL random factor is notched up high here, as there are some options that will depend on your weight, for example, rather than your free will to choose, and there are elves, monsters, clowns, and even a trip to space all rolled in without any rhyme or reason. There is no overarching story line in each route, just LOL oops you’re screwed moments. There are only two genuinely happy endings, and one involves you unleashing a possible new threat to the world, so in a way, the horror mood is done right. It’s just that everything here is just fragmented and disjointed, and the end result is a campaign in which you are just lurching from one point to another in reaction to the wackiness thrown at you.
Fun? Well, it’s not a bad way to kill some time, as there is an element of amusing wackiness underneath all the randomness. The whole thing is still rather superficial and forgettable, though.