Puffin Books, £3.50, ISBN 0-14-032935-8
Fangs of Fury is a definitely recognizable gamebook by Luke Sharp. The names of places and characters in this one have the letters X, Y, and Z, as usual, heh, and there is a ridiculous emphasis on gameplay mechanics at the expense of an interesting story.
Set in the Southwestern Khul kingdom of Zamarra, this one has you being a soldier in the royal army who volunteers for a dangerous mission. Zamarra is being besieged by the forces of the evil Ostragoth and he is abetted by the evil wizard Jaxartes. Their targets are the twelve wizards of the Mage-Order and, naturally, these useless wizened wastes of flesh insist that they are too valuable to be killed. What you have to do now is to sneak into the volcano known as the Fangs of Fury and rekindle the magical source of fire in there that would allow the magical stone dragons of Zamarra to come to life and char the enemies to cinders.
No, you aren’t provided with any magical aid. Even better, the Wizards make sure that you can’t waste time exploring every twists and turns – you wear a bracelet that will glow when a citadel wall falls to Ostragoth’s forces. Once all fourteen walls are breached, you die. I tell you, Astragal and his useless friends make me long for the dwarf groupie Yaztromo – at least that old coot will sell you a potion or two.
I detest the mindlessness of the design in this one. You have basically an artificial limit to how long you can play, thanks to the bracelet, but this won’t be so bad if the author will drop hints and clues as to which path is the correct one. Alas, this one is pretty much another campaign where you are constantly presented with two or three paths and are told to randomly pick one. Even with the presence of some code-cracking exercises here and there, most of the time you will be practically wandering around without a clue as to where you are going. Coupled to the sense of urgency you feel whenever you are told to black out one citadel flag in the Character Sheet every time the bracelet glows, you end up stressed and pressed for time while not knowing a clue where you are going or even what you are doing. Fun!
And the campaign isn’t even interesting! Mr Sharp presents combat encounters or dangerous situations without describing them in any detail. For example, there is one scene where you will encounter a young boy who summons a monster to fight with you. But once you have defeated the monster, the boy is out of the picture. Who is he? What is he? Mr Sharp doesn’t bother to make his scenes or characters memorable, however, so you will never know the answers.
The campaign needs you to collect Black Cubes for no reason other than Mr Sharp wants you to get cracking with treasure hunting. There is an interesting system of getting Black Cubes here: whenever you come across a paragraph with an accompanying illustration, you can look for the Black Cubes in that illustration. But this Where’s Wally? game is ruined by the fact that David Gallagher’s illustrations are as bland as Mr Sharp’s prose.
You will be very busy in Fangs of Fury because you will be cracking your head trying to decipher codes, squinting at flat and uninteresting illustrations, and spending 90% of your time wandering blindly in dungeons and maze-like wilderness with nary a clue as to where you should be heading. Factor in some instant deaths, some unfair combat odds, and the utter lack of direction and you will get a gamebook more focused on methodology and mechanics than the story.