Scholastic, $3.99, ISBN 0-590-67321-1
If you love that idiot younger brother in Tick Tock, You’re Dead!, you will love Joanie, the younger sister of your character in Under the Magician’s Spell.
Joanie is forced onto you by your parents when you wish to head off to the mall with your nerdy friend Sid, and that’s when the problem begins. Joanie runs off almost immediately, and you find her in front of a new magic shop called, er, The Magic Shop. Of course, she and Sid then proceed to manhandle every merchandise in the shop, until the creepy owner known simply as the Magician shows up and unnerves all of you. The fun really begins when you discover that the handcuffs around Sid’s wrists – he placed them onto his wrists because, hey, plot – won’t come off and in fact are becoming tighter over time, and Joanie reveals that she has “accidentally” taken with her a spell book belonging to the Magician. Now, parts of her will slowly vanish so long as the book is still not returned, and no, you can’t rejoice. You have to help both her and Sid, bummer.
If you wish to see whether there is a spell in the book that can help, all three of you will be magically transported into what seems like a magical dimension populated by magic show freaks and such. You have to find a way out while putting a stop on the nonsense affecting your friend and sister, and this is easily the most random route. Really, you may reach a happy or bad ending depending on random things such as the day you are playing the gamebook – although you really should cheat if you feel like it – and whether or not you know the meaning of a word. There will be moments when you are stringed along for a few entries until you realize, oops, you’re screwed, and there will also be options that all lead to terrible ends.
Normally, such randomness may be annoying, but then again, given the theme of this gamebook – mad magic – it kind of makes perfect sense in this particular campaign.
If you forgo the spell book and try to find more mundane ways to help Sid, you will soon lose the spell book to some bullies. Oops. This is more interesting and slightly less random route, coming off more like an actual story instead of just scenes strung together. Slightly, that is, as there are also plenty of weird and random stuff. You can encounter werewolves, giant rats, and reanimated corpses – seriously, what kind of neighborhood is this? – and may even take a trip to some surreal Wonderland-on-speed landscape to stare down the Magician. Mind you, you may still come to a happy or bad ending depending on random elements, but this wouldn’t be a Give Yourself Goosebumps gamebook without the randomness.
In spite of the randomness, this campaign is particularly railroad-y too, as you, Sid, and especially Joanie will often do really, really stupid things just for a bad ending to land on you, and there is nothing you can do to avoid that. This is the most irksome aspect of the campaign, especially when the campaign mocks Joanie and allows you the option to strangle her, only to chide you when you choose that option. Oh please, as if anyone would object to choking the life out of the miserable, annoying wretch. The best bad endings here are those that also kill off Joanie alongside you and Sid, because the best Joanie is a dead one.
While Under the Magician’s Spell still feels like scenes after scenes put together without much rhyme or reason, in this particular instance, the randomness fits the theme perfectly. This one easily won’t be the best or even the more memorable gamebook in this line, but it kind of captures the whole weird acid trip of being swept up in wacky magic mayhem nicely. Hence, it’s not too bad, all things considered!