Friday, October 18, 2013

"Goosebumps: Escape from Horrorland", Windows, 1996.

Keeping things scary for the juvenile set, here's another book-to-CD-rom adaptation. Here they forego roping in the branding with the nominal missing link between static text and interactive multimedia (that missing link being the Goosebumps gamebook spin-off line "Give Yourself Goosebumps"), and just go for the R.L. Stine jugular.

In this game, you dodge
Mutants, Weirdos and Creatures that drool.
(Just like in the hallways at school.)

The CD-ROM game

Your favorite book now on CD-ROM

Based on the #1 best-selling book series by R.L. Stine

So, a joint DreamWorks / Microsoft venture? Sorry, MultiPath Movies, you're swimming with sharks. Though the screenshots aren't markedly different (scary 3D monsters, meet slightly better-modelled and textured scary 3D monsters) this seems like a higher-rent version of the last ad we looked at -- and rightly so, as the CYOA juggernaut had run out of steam by the '90s while Goosebumps was still a burgeoning titan. Higher production values. More reputable co-producers. I bet, however, that it's still not much fun to play in retrospect. (The retrogaming conundrum: some cherished childhood titles, when revisited, are simply dogs. Do adults really enjoy more sophisticated tastes, does the state of the art really advance so far, or are kids just kind of stupid? Probably some combination of all three.) For what it's worth, this game does have a sequel (or rather, the franchise did have another licensed game adaptation.)

My (admittedly limited) Goosebumps experience has been that the scares aren't really scary and the humour isn't actually funny. It's not that these are frightening games and books so much as that they are kind of fear-themed. (Cue a conversation with a neighbour a few nights ago about the tendency of the horror genre to slide from horror, eg. Gremlins, into comedy, eg. Gremlins 2.) (Actually Gremlins 2 is not a great example of anything.)

There's something to be said here about R.L. Stine's early family connection to the gaming industry, with him and a few family members (the Parachute Press cronies, apparently still in effect in the small print here) penning CYO gamebooks and also regular storybooks interspersed with plot-related type-in BASIC computer programs. It may have just been an unexploited angle for them to capitalize on while funding made itself available, fecklessly drifting from gig to gig (like the Spaceballs novelization and the Scholastic joke books by his earlier alter ego "Jovial Bob Stine") waiting for the motherlode to come in. Well, here it is. It came. And like all such things, then it went. I'm sure none of them had their grubby fingers on this particular product, which must have been far too expensive to risk muddying with input from the creative side of show business.

Where is R.L. Stine today? Did he find, then lose, Jesus, like Anne Rice did? Will he become a counterculture hit on the college lecture circuit to kids who learned to read on his literary pablum? Is his Twitter account even today doggedly followed by millions? It's, well, a mystery. One beyond the scope of this blog.