Scholastic, $3.99, ISBN 0-590-41920-X
You have been selected, along with your friend Richie, to take part in a real circus for a week – a reward for being MVPs at Circus Camp. Unfortunately, Mistress Barbara is actually Mistress Barbarous, and the circus ringleader wastes no time. The moment your mother drives off, she immediately sics her dastardly family relatives on you. From clowns with extending arms to man-eating lion tamers, there is no shortage of dangerous freaks out to either capture you for Mistress Barbarous to transform into new freaks for the circus, or for their snack. Will you survive this show?
Trapped in the Circus of Fear is a “Power Play” special edition, so this is one of the more gamebook-y entries in the Give Yourself Goosebumps series. Unfortunately, while things look promising when you are asked to pick three items from a list, the campaign soon devolves into a plot-less mad chase around the circus. It’s impossible to get lucky and escape with your life intact without having the “right” items with you, but that’s one route that you have to actively seek out. For the most part, it all boils down to whether you have the right item for a particular sticky situation. Don’t have it? Oh, here’s a bad ending. The whole thing feels rather… lazy, as you are almost never given any option to get yourself out of trouble if you didn’t have a certain item.
There is also that chin-scratching moment when the gamebook asks you about something that you have no way of doing throughout the campaign.
There isn’t much to take away from this one other than plenty of running around. Still, there are some pretty gruesome endings, including one where your head gets bitten off and they stick your ears at each side of the stump of your neck – awesome, so there’s probably that if you are really, really bored. Oh, and Richie is naturally an iron ball around your ankle, and you have to save him regardless of what a useless putz he is. This is one campaign that would have been awesome if the formula for once had been broken and you were allowed to star in a campaign without a friend dragging you down.
There’s not much of a big time fun here. It’s alright if you like running around for your life, but that’s all there is to it here. The lack of any background information on the Circus of Fear doesn’t help either – this one is as threadbare as they come.