Scholastic, $3.99, ISBN 0-590-84772-4
Welcome to the Wicked Wax Museum… aww, it’s almost an alliteration. If you love that Waxwork movie – come on, you’re among friends, so there’s no need to hide any longer – this is going to be a cozy dozy, as here, instead of classic horror monsters, the wax statues are those of classic Goosebumps ones. Meta? Absolutely. Given how fast RL Stine churns out these things, humility is likely not anywhere near to being on the priority list.
You and your friends Liz and Jake are on a school trip to the new wax museum in town, the Wicked Wax Museum. You all annoy your history teacher so much that all three of you are made to sit outside the museum for the duration of the trip. Your friend Jake of course spots a red door and runs through it. Seriously, friends in this series are like having live grenades strapped around your waist – you never know which one will go off at any certain time. What you and Liz do will determine whether you find yourself pitted against Dr Izzy Wicked and his fiendish minions – they use actual people in making wax statues, and yes, the statues are alive – or the not-quite-human Sybil Wicked, his assistant Axel, and the Deboner machine. Yeah, that’s the name of the machine… yeah.
First, a warning: your friends aren’t just super annoying here, they also get you all in trouble so often that you will soon wish that you have the option to hand them over to either Izzy or Sybil, and ask to be allowed to watch as the villain tortures those wretches slowly. Also, this one requires you to know some details from other non-gamebook Goosebumps entries, but like we always say here: if you don’t know the answer, for Asmodeus’s sake, cheat.
On the bright side, this campaign captures the creepy atmosphere of a gruesome wax museum very nicely. From the chases to the near-death encounters with T-1000-like wax monsters like the Lord High Executioner and the Strangler, there is no shortage of frights here. While not described in gory detail, the elements of body horror are always present in a delicious, macabre manner. This one is almost a great Give Yourself Goosebumps gamebook.
Almost, that is. The LOL random twists and turns here are more toned down than usual, as there are only two good endings – one for each route you take – so there is a challenging aspect to this one that is rarely found in previous entries. However, many of the bad endings aren’t particularly interesting or amusing. It is as if RL Stine spent all his juice on story lines and had only LOLOLOL so random half-baked ideas left for the endings. One ending sees you and Liz dumped onto the back of a garbage truck in a “Need ending, no idea, so LOL!” way, while another ending sees you being scolded by your teacher after you wisely refuses to get into a stranger’s vehicle – that will teach you to have common sense in a Goosebumps setting! Oh, and there are all those melting bodies in some endings, as if we had all run out of ways to kill people in a wax museum.
Welcome to the Wicked Max Museum is, thus, a pretty frustrating gamebook in many ways. When it is good, it’s like having a Zach Galligan festival with your besties coming over with popcorn and drinks, but turn a page or two, and it quickly slides down into uninspired, even lazy setups and “twists”. All in all, three oogies would be a fair rating, as its strengths and weaknesses can cancel out one another.