Wizard Books, £5.99, ISBN 978-1-84831078-0
It is almost reassuring to read Jonathan Green’s Stormslayer and realize that he is still one of the most sadistic gamebook designers in existence. Now, there are some tough gamebook designers – Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson sure didn’t make anyone’s life easier in those The Way of the Tiger series, for example – but these designers manage to make their campaigns tough but fun. That’s the big difference between them and Jonathan Green, who just aims to wear you down with constant battles with ridiculously overpowered villains and unfair situations.
More steampunk than generic fantasy, Stormslayer pits you, the Hero of Tannatown and a bit of a braggart, against an evil Storm Mage, Balthazar Sturm, and his magic flying ship full of golems and Terminator-like monsters. Oh, and he also controls the weather, intending to destroy the Old World as a way to show his old masters who kicked him out of mage school who the boss really is.
I think Stormslayer breaks the record for the numbers of consecutive combat encounters featuring opponents with Combat Skill scores of 10 and above. One Earth Elemental has a Combat Skill of 14 and he’s not even the final bad guy! Not only that, this campaign will see you running around scrambling for those precious special items that you need to keep yourself from being viciously violated to death by evil monsters. The path to victory is very unforgiving, and to make things worse, the author doesn’t give you any clue. It’s all “turn left or right?” and trying to read Mr Green’s mind. My favorite is the tedious and sadistic dungeon crawl through Mount Pyre that makes me long for the stroll in the park that is the Maze of Zagor…
And not only are the odds ridiculously stacked against you, the campaign punishes you for being sensible and honorable. Helping out some innocent folks on a side quest would use up your one-time-only special item… only to have you realize much later that if you have let those useless villagers rot, you could still have that item with you and avoid that combat encounter with a villain of a Combat Skill of 10 because you are already near-death after six previous consecutive tough fights. If you decide to be cautious and look for information earlier in the campaign, you will miss out on obtaining at least two vital Special Items – you should have been a fool and rushed headlong into danger instead.
Wait, that’s not all! Jonathan Green cheats. If you actually do what he tells you to do, he punishes you. Late in the campaign, you will be told that the best way to defeat Balthazar Sturm is to damage his air ship as much as you can. If you do this, your reward is an extra combat encounter with two henchmen… one that you would have avoided if you didn’t follow Mr Green’s advice and stroll straight to the villain for the final confrontation.
And like Jonathan Green’s gamebooks in the past, this one has a final do-or-die clause. After your struggle through eight – or is it twelve? – titanic opponents with Combat Skills above 10 along with what seems like hundreds of lesser minions with Combat Skills 7 or 8 (don’t laugh at the lesser minions – there is one combat encounter with two stupid bats that has a 50% chance of killing you outright whenever you lose two combat encounters in a row); after escaping sudden deaths and traps and other hurdles that seep away at your Stamina – after all that nonsense, Jonathan Green asks you whether you have any one of the two special items he requires you to have. You don’t have any of them? Well, too bad, then you die anyway after all that nonsense the author has put you through.
Only one step above David Tant when it comes to being a supremely useless gamebook designer who lives only to torment his readers, Jonathan Green has reached a point where his name on any gamebook should be a warning to readers to stay far, far away. Why are they releasing his sadistic campaigns as new material? Don’t the likes of Dave Morris or Keith Martin have anything new to offer? We shouldn’t be encouraging this fellow, people. Stop publishing his gamebooks or he will never go away! Jonathan Green, leave my beloved gamebooks alone!