Scholastic, $3.99, ISBN 0-590-76785-2
Interestingly, It’s Only a Nightmare is akin to The Matrix of sorts, given a Goosebumps reskin and made PG-13, although do note this one first came out before the movie. Of course, nightmares as nothing new as theme in horror stories, but this one presents the possibility that your dreams are the reality, and what you think is real actually is stuff you’re dreaming of.
Here, your character has always been haunted by an entity known as the Sleep Master, who always leaves this cryptic message behind:
“Wake up! Your whole life is a dream. What you call the dream world is reality. Wake up and live it!”
The Sleep Master sometimes appears as a kid your age, sometimes you can’t see him clearly at all, but you always know he’s there.
It gets particularly harrowing when you are vacationing with your parents – seriously, don’t ever go on vacations if you’re in a Goosebumps book! – and you of course sleep in a bedroom on a bed with four hideous gargoyles on the headboard. Surprise, the gargoyles come to life and talk to you! You’re having another dream… right?
If you decide to tough it out and just plow your way into the dream, you will have to pick one out of four types of dreams to enjoy. This campaign has many, many bad endings, and this route is responsible for most of them, because you will be caught in a The Monkey’s Paw kind of scenario. The kind of dream you wish for will go wrong most of the time, although you may get lucky and get a happy one now and then. Mind you, some dream options will lead to zero happy ending, so enjoy. This one is kind of hilarious, especially if you are older and have gone through some of the experiences mentioned here, because it presents retail, fast food service, trips to kiddie theme parks, and then some as nightmares… and really, you may find it hard to disagree with that. This one doesn’t feature the Sleep Master, so the route feels more like filler than anything else. It’s very fun to get the bad endings here, so it’s a good kind of filler.
The meat of the campaign lies in the route you pick when you decide to wake up and slip downstairs of the inn to look for a book to read. This one will branch off into two sub-routes: you can get the predictable random stumbling through one dream after another, although unlike the first route, this time you will be hounded and pestered by the Sleep Master while you’re at it. You may find yourself meeting a terrible end, or you realize you’re actually not dreaming, but rather, you have awakened, and what you thought was your real life was actually your dream. It’s all very The Matrix-like. The other sub-route has you realizing that the Sleep Master is more of an ally than nemesis: you have to defeat the true big bad, Lord Morphos, in order to get back to the real world, and the Sleep Master may be able to help you.
Clearly more thought and effort has been put into the second route, and hence, this is the more satisfying route to play. Still, the first route is fun too in a “YOLO, so stupid!” way.
There isn’t much scare here at first, but if you think a bit deeper, some of the bad endings are pretty horrifying – falling down forever, being turned into a sausage and eaten alive, being deep fried, and experiencing permanent stage fright.
All in all, It’s Only a Nightmare! is less of a snore, and more of a fun, bouncy dream of a Give Yourself Goosebumps! gamebook.