Chooseco, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-933390-05-5
Mystery of the Maya may just have the most gruesome opener ever for any gamebook: you have a nightmare in which your friend Tom has his throat cut during a Mayan ritual sacrifice. This is so cool! Alas, and then you wake up, and as always, real life never measures up to the beautiful landscapes of Morpheus. You are an adult of sorts, and your friend Tom is a reporter who vanished while tracking down secrets of the Mayan temples for his TV special. You head over to Mexico to locate Tom, as heaven knows, it’s not like one should call the cops or even the embassy to look into such matters. Depending on your choices, you either embark on a time travel trip back to Mayan days of bloodshed and mayhem, or you tackle more mundane bandits, crooked cops, and other vaguely politically incorrect stereotypes straight out of a B-grade action flick.
The good thing about this one is that there are some rather gruesome turns of events, especially if you take a trip back in time. Unfortunately, you are never allowed a chance to slit anyone’s throat – understandable, as this is a kiddie gamebook, but still, disappointing – and worse, the choices you make lead to frustratingly random endings. Mr Montgomery isn’t even trying here. There is one ending where Tom literally shows up out of nowhere to save you, and then it’s the end. Another ending has you going from making a phone call to having vanished into the sea, never to be seen again. No, the last one is really present here. Another one sees you going into some cave, then Tom suddenly shows up to tell you it’s time to go home (you have never seen him before this), the end. What is going on here? Who knows, most of the time, it’s just Mr Montgomery apparently aborting story arcs with really random and abrupt endings because he has to take a trip to the toilet or something.
Mystery of the Maya may appeal to younger kids who may not be too bothered by this half-arsed effort of a gamebook, but even then, there is no education value here for them. Aside from how people in Mexico are all dangerous brutes both in the past and present, there is. Mayan culture is all human sacrifice and violent sports. Sure, those are the coolest aspects of that culture to kids and adults alike, but come on, surely the number of abrupt, absurd, and ill-conceived endings could have been cut down for more narrative that could have given everyone a better and more balanced picture of Mayan culture?
If you are looking for a gamebook where everything boils down to weird random brain farts from Mr Montgomery, you are most welcome to Mystery of the Maya. Everyone else, let’s take comfort in that there are still many other gamebooks out there to have fun with.