Armada Books, £1.75, ISBN 0-00-692388-7
The Garden of Madness is the fourth and final gamebook in David Tant’s The Legends of Skyfall series. In a way, I am quite disappointed that this series has never lived up to its potential because the world of Skyfall is actually well thought out and quite interesting. It is the gameplay that sinks the series straight to the bottom of the abyss.
After the unexpectedly decent Mine of Torments, The Garden of Madness is a huge slide backward. If you are still shuddering from the trauma of trying to play The Black Pyramid straight and fair, the bad news for you is that this one is pretty much designed like that awful, awful gamebook.
The Garden of Madness takes you to the northern parts of Delta. You are summoned by His Highness Prince Elrindell of Tan-Delta for an urgent mission. Your fame has preceded you, and now the Prince wants you to rescue the King’s daughter, Princess Wanda, from the Castle of Flowers, the home of the nasty Margrave of Shekar. The Castle is not only fortified by all kinds of monsters and magical minions, however – the infamous gardens around the Castle are full of carnivorous plants.
If you have played any previous gamebook in this series, you will know what to expect. Plenty of pointless wandering, often leading you back to the same place again and again, until you realize that, unless you happen to stumble upon the one true path to success, you have actually wasted your time going round in circles in a path that ultimately leads to failure. Even better, once you have somehow managed to find the one true path to the Princess, you have to retrace your route so that you can escape the Castle. You will be going back to the same places, doing the same things you have done the first time around, and if you somehow forget where you should turn, you could very well end up lost all over again. Fun, huh?
I honestly do not know what David Tant is thinking. Does he genuinely expect people to enjoy spending hours wandering around in circles? It’s not as if the payoff is amazing – the conclusion of this campaign literally ends with an unfinished sentence designed to create a cliffhanger effect. By this point, you’re more likely wanting to jump off a cliff in despair than to appreciate the cliffhanger effect.
At any rate, this series is done for, so it’s probably pointless to speculate on the author’s motives and designs for this series. The Garden of Madness, like pretty much the other gamebooks in this ill-conceived series, is all about pointless wandering and monotonous grinding. It does have some very nice illustrations, but I doubt that is any consolation for the poorly thought-out gameplay design.