Puffin Books, £3.50, ISBN 0-14-032152-7
Robot Commando is written by the American Steve Jackson, not the co-founder of the Fighting Fantasy series, and it shows. Where the British Steve Jackson can be notoriously stringent in his campaign designs with the one true path to victory buried underneath the illusion of many choices, the American Steve Jackson designs his campaign more simplistically, with more leeway given to you when it comes to reaching the happy ending.
Anyway, in this one, you are the native of a planet called Thalos. Of course, you are the civilized one, living in peace and farming dinosaurs, while your neighbors, the Karosseans, are savage creatures bent on war and destruction. Then one fine day, you realize that the Karosseans have invaded Thalos when everyone but you falls asleep. The evil Karossean leader Minos has planned the invasion by releasing “capsules of a virulent sleep disease” on your people! Now you must act to stop the invaders before they sell off your people as slaves and rape the verdant riches of your planet. You are alone, but hey, you have your robots!
The battle system here is slightly modified from the usual Fighting Fantasy system when it comes to robot combat. When your robots do the fighting, you deduct from their Armour score instead of a Stamina score. There are also descriptions of your robot’s Speed as well as an opponent’s. Whoever is faster gets a +1 bonus to its Skill point. If you are faster than your opponent, you can also choose to escape from a combat encounter. Some of the more advanced robots you may find can also bestow unique skills.
There are several happy endings here, which is an oddity indeed in this series, and therefore, there are just has many routes to get there. This degree of freedom allows you to make choices freely to explore all options given in this campaign. The difficulty level isn’t hard – there is no script to follow, no standard sequence of events to adhere to, and the campaign is quite generous in giving you options to retreat and lick your wounds when the going gets tough.
Robot Commando therefore may be a walk in the park compared to some later gamebooks in this series, but still, there is a charm to this whole Transformers-meets-dinosaurs campaign. It is nice to occasionally play and make choices without worrying whether you are carrying the 15 required Special Items and what not, after all.