If you were like me, you can probably thank your childhood spent playing video games for your strong reading skills today.
Not only did we have to learn to read to master the games we played, but we also honed our skills on countless copies of Nintendo Power, that great monthly supply of tips, tricks and walkthroughs. But there were also a few great book series based on video games, including the Worlds of Power books.
Of course, no kind of book was better suited to adapting Nintendo’s video games than the Choose Your Own Adventure novel. These books put you in command of the story, and Nintendo realized the marketing potential of a series that let kids read through an adventure starring Mario or Link.
That led them to release the Nintendo Gamebooks, 16 books featuring stories from Hyrule and the Mushroom Kingdom. They were mainly written by Hooked on Phonics and Reader Rabbit creator Russell Gins, but some up-and-coming writers wrote entries in the series as well.
Gamebooks writer Bill McCay went on to pen a number of Stargate books, and Matt Wayne later wrote for TV shows like Justice League, Static Shock and Danny Phantom. While the series was a lot of fun to read, we mainly remember it today because these books were so tough…
Compared to most Choose Your Adventure series, the Gamebooks were actually pretty advanced.
Along with dead ends (or “Game Overs”) the books featured an inventory and a score system, just like the games they were based on. As you traveled through the story you were warned to keep track of the items and coins you collected.
To earn the “good” ending you had to run through each book pretty much perfectly, but there were a lot of pitfalls along the way, especially since the inventory system was far from perfect. Most books had an item missing from the inventory screen, so it was hard to track your progress or solve some puzzles.
And while those puzzles were pretty simple, the stories themselves forced you to think outside the box. One book had a maximum score of 370, but you needed 410 points to unlock the good ending. Confused? You were supposed to answer a question incorrectly, which looped you back to the start of the book, where you could earn more points.
Some items were also meant to trick you. If you picked up an anchor, for example, Mario would sink to the bottom of the sea during a swimming section. Or if you combined two magic items to win a high-jump competition, you would make Luigi jump straight into outer space (which is a Game Over, of course).
And if you were unlucky enough to land on a Game Over page, it could sometimes be too much to handle…
Part of the fun of Choose Your Own Adventure books is the grisly “bad endings,” but they’re no so fun when Mario is the one being punished.
As a kid playing Super Mario World, you might assume that our favorite plumber dies every time you miss a jump, but it’s another thing entirely to read that he bit the dust, written in black and white before your eyes. And Mario and Luigi would die a lot before you made it to the end of a book.
Here’s one example, where the reader chooses to investigate a trap door:
The door isn’t locked, but it’s very, very heavy. After much tugging, pulling and grunting, it finally swings open. “Oh, Mario,” Toad says reproachfully. Oh, no! They’ve opened the secret entrance to the Magma Pits. And hot lava isn’t good for the complexion!
Well don’t you feel stupid – Mario and Toad have been barbecued, and it’s all your fault!
Here’s another passage, where Mario tries to break down a door using his hammer:
He stands by the doorway and lets go with a mighty whack. Oang! Crunch! Kahoom! Huge cracks appear in the walls and ceiling. Then it all comes down … on Mario!
These were children’s books? Now I understand why my parents wanted to buy the Great Illustrated Classics instead.
Share this story if you remember Nintendo Gamebooks!
[H/T: Super Luigi Bros]