Having been in an interactive fiction place for some time now, I’ve been going back to my old childhood gamebooks for a bit of bedtime reading. They were very well-loved back in the day by me and my brother Malcolm and travelled everywhere with us, but it’s been a long time since I cracked them open. Recently, I thought I’d give them another go and see what they were like from an adult viewpoint.
The first one I pulled off the shelf was the first in the series of Nintendo Adventure Books, Double Trouble.
In addition to (likely) being in a slightly different gamebook headspace from where I was as a child, I’m also in a slightly different Nintendo headspace. In the ’90s, I knew Mario from my Game Boy, where he was a tiny black and white cluster of pixels jumping high into the air to bash blocks and jump on monsters. I loved Super Mario Land (platformers were my absolute jam from my first bumbling small child attempts at HunchBack on the BBC Micro circa 1988-1989 right through until the end of the ’90s, by which point adventure games had taken over my world), but the monochrome Mario didn’t have much of a personality.
Fast forward to the early ’20s, where I am in the process of transitioning from a wonderful decade spent with my 3DS to the shiny delights of my new Switch Lite. These days, I know Mario through games such as Paper Mario: The Origami King (my gaming highlight of last summer), which are considerably more story-driven than Super Mario Land! As such, I have a much more concrete idea of all the main characters and their places in the Mushroom Kingdom.
This had a pretty big knock-on effect when I flipped open Double Trouble the other week for the first time in decades. In the ’90s, the books in this series were a pleasant expansion of the limited amount I knew about the Mario universe; in the present day, the details are just different enough to jar. Bowser was still King Koopa back in 1991, when this book was published; Princess Peach was Princess Toadstool; her dad was still in the picture; there were a ton of minor characters I haven’t seen mentioned in games for a long time. Still, once I adjusted my worldview back a few decades, there was quite a bit to enjoy.
The story is a fairly daft premise about
Bowser King Koopa trying to cause havoc in the Mushroom Kingdom by cloning all the citizens (the actual brains behind the cloning machine is his son Iggy, later retconned as not Bowser’s son and another character you don’t hear about very often these days). The gameplay is a mixture of standard ‘make a choice and turn to page X’ and ‘solve this wordsearch or maze puzzle to find out whether you get to turn to page Y or Z!’ The latter can be frustrating and dull, although thankfully most of the pencil marks that Malcolm and I made back in the day are still intact.
There’s a fairly annoying and slightly lazy mechanic where you get hit on the head a lot, resulting in amnesia, which is meant to be the explanation for why you keep getting sent back to the same passage you’ve already read when you make a wrong but not wrong-enough-for-game-over decision. I wouldn’t mind, but Mario spends his entire life hitting blocks with his head, so you’d think his skull would be tough enough to withstand a few thumps from turtle minions.
You also collect a lot of coins, like you do in the platform games. However, there never seems to be anything you can spend them on – it seems they’re just meant to represent points at the end of the game.
Still, it’s a fun little story that can be finished in twenty minutes or so. I’ve got another couple of the books in the series, so I’ll be coming back to these soon!
Useful link: listing at Demian’s Gamebook Web Page.