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The Perfect Nintendo Adventure Book

Old Nintendo Adventure Books collection

This article is a general overview of Nintendo Adventure Books, a more opinion based companion of my guide page. These books are a 1991-92 ‘Choose-your-own-adventure’ series based on mostly the Valiant Nintendo Comics System. The characters are Mario based except in two books based on The Legend of Zelda. As you will note on my walk through page for series, the quality varies and it’s quite interesting why. There are only two writers under pen names yet the writing can be night and day from book to book. Here we will focus primarily on the Mario themed books I’ve read. Let’s break it down.

Mario vs Bowser

The tale as old as time, when Bowser created mutants out of his own minions and was defeated by a two headed giant Mario brother hybrid. What? Don't remember that?

Plots: A good book in this series should have a plot that’s engaging and different than an experience someone would get from the main canon games. Surprisingly all of the books are at minimum mildly interesting in their premise. There are colorful plot lines such as Bowser creating clones of everyone, the Mushroom King being transformed into a rabbit unless Mario and co can win a whistle in Olympic like games, various Bowser baddies being merged into freakazoid monsters, Mario and Luigi being sucked into dimensional portals based on retro games, tennis shoes with a mind of their own that whisk Princess Peach away for a forced ballet tour, people’s minds and bodies swapping in all the Kingdom, and the need to explore Yoshi’s...gut. Other books have a slightly more normal for Mario plot, such as a bad guy putting Mario’s friends in danger or someone going missing. This alone is not indicative of the writing quality, but it is nice that none of them copy and paste scenarios taken from the games.

Characters: The best protagonist(s) is usually Mario and Luigi as a team as this paring allows for the best dialog, banter, and other action on the adventure. Mario or Luigi plus an other secondary character varies. It can work okay with Toad for instance but not so much with Yoshi who cannot speak in these books. The least exciting is usually Mario or Luigi solo. Without banter the writer has to struggle to find other ways to make the scenery or scenarios interesting. Bowser or someone related is almost always the bad guy though there are neat exceptions. Their evil plans are usually executed well enough as evidenced by the many ways the protagonist can game over and thus allow them to win. Often it's inexplicable how they come up with the wacky ideas, but that adds to the charm. Side characters are presented decently enough, often the way they might in comics. They sometimes have unique names and appearances and for one-offs like Dr. Shrinkasaurus they seem to go all out!

Scenery: Stories take place either in the Mushroom Kingdom or Dinosaur Land. It all depends on how the writer handles it. At worst the book can make chapters sound like a bland advertisement or for either Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World. The edge I believe goes to slighly older books in the Mushroom Kingdom. Something about it feels more timeless and there are the eight worlds of Super Mario Bros 3 for much more variety verses the tropics and dinosaurs of Dinosaur Land.

Monster Mix-Up map by gamesasylum

This is Monster Mix-Up's map. That's right... (Source:gamesasylum)

Structure: This can be a huge factor for overall enjoyment. Most books branch quite a bit at the start by design. The intro chapter eases the reader in and then features a puzzle that will either give a hint or present the first branching points. The middle bulk of all of the books will allow for exploration, but my only requirement is that it feels like it has ‘purpose’. Mario or Luigi randomly stumbling around in the book is not very fun and does not give the reader a sense of where they are in the story. The book should guide you towards a goal but allow multiple ways to do it. On different read-throughs you should ideally be able to encounter different things and still be able to reach the end. Some books reach my ideal expectations and others do not. For instance Book 3: Monster Mix-Up struck me as being aimless and difficult to navigate even as a child due to the scenery being generic and identical and chapters needlessly looping you. Sometimes the tendency to loop is part of the design. Book 6: Doors to Doom will require the reader to reread pages to complete the story.

Let me briefly touch on the elephant in the room: whether or not is is appropriate to revisit pages and count their points. Some readers of this series question if this is okay and if you are to recount any points awarded in this manner. I believe answer is yes unless the book says otherwise. The book should be written in a way so that this isn’t too annoying or awkward. Does this make the score infinite then? Unfortunately yes. Pages that give awards “should” not be on any loopback, but the reality is that the writers don’t think that far ahead. (See Score section)

What about the finale? Many books become linear at the end and how well this will come off will depend on the quality of the book until then. If the book was strong this doesn’t ruin it but if the book was mediocre.. There are however standout counterexamples that give the reader options down to the end nearly (Book 2: Leaping Lizards, Book 5: Pipe Down!, Book 12: Brain Drain). The pinnacle of this sort of thing is if the book allows the reader some room for error during the finale. For example if the reader did not do perfect on earlier sections but can scrape away a victory at the expense for not obtaining the high score (see Score section). This is rare in this series yet 'Leaping Lizards' and 'Pipe Down!' for instance pull this off.

Brain Drain word search

Seems simple but now imagine this without a word bank (Source:Mariowiki)

Puzzles: On my walk through page I compartmentalize the puzzles present in this series into seven main categories. Ideally the books should offer some variety but really whatever they to the reader just needs to be fair and easily understood yet not too mindless to complete. Puzzles are supposed to help you in some way, whether allowing you to know what’s the better path to take or giving you something of value like points or items. Unfortunately even in the otherwise better written stories you might find puzzles that don’t give a definitive answer on what to do or offer anything. Puzzles that relate to the theme of the book at least are great. I often penalize puzzles if I feel they expect too much work, often exacerbated by unclear and/or overly long instructions because this tempts the reader to simply not bother and skipping puzzles even if out of frustration is also skipping an integral part of the book. If a badly done puzzle is directly tied in to an item that’s needed for victory, that’s an even more serious issue. Some puzzles have variable scoring based on how well you do or what random path you take. This can be amusing when a really high or low score is presented as a page split option that is actually a red herring, leading to a ‘You can’t get this score!’ page. The assumption here is that they think you cheated or plain can’t count. However sometimes a higher score is legit and you may wonder how you can actually obtain such a score. I don’t consider that necessarily an error but it can be frustrating.

Dinosaur Dilemma maze puzzle

Be careful how you solve puzzles like this as it may affect if the high score is obtainable or not. (Source:Mariowiki)

Items: What role these play depend entirely on the book. Some books are very item focused, requiring one or more for competition. At worse a book will have the item buried on a page a that is hard to navigate to with little to no hints it is needed until it is too late. Other books feature items where necessity depends on your choices. I think a medium between the two is best. I think some sort of item(s) should be needed to encourage exploration in the book and emulate a game like experience, but it should be hinted at, not hard to find, and if you miss it there should be at least one opportunity to obtain it without a total reset. Some books have hazards which will remove or ‘buffet’ as I put it in my guides the player of their item. This can be terrible if you cannot obtain it again and often leads to more penalties or a game over later down the road, though some books allow the reader to navigate back to it.

Another related unwelcome quirk are ‘Items of Doom’ that will end the game by the reader utilizing it or even more egregiously by simply having it in their inventory. These are always out of left field and a cheap way to lose. I have one exception where I am okay with this. In 'Leaping Lizards' there are two items of this nature but only if optionally combined during the finale. The pogo stick and wings will be the end of your character but the book presents it in such a funny way it actually makes sense.

Brain Drain score card

A typical score card, in this instance once that requires the reader to convert their coins to points.

Scoring: We can be quick here. Some books award coins that convert to points and other books simply award the points. You are given certain rankings on how well you do but it seems they came up with them before the book was completed. In some books you will obtain the max score by winning whereas in other books it may seem nigh impossible to get the highest score no matter what. I suppose if you tally your score on failed game over trips in the book those lower scores will come up, but going for full completion you will find the score system just about useless.

Doctor Sigmund Shrinkasaurus illistration

The quality of some of the 'original' artwork you can find in the series. (Source:Mariowiki)

Illustrations: Art in the books are usually taken from official game artwork but often there custom edits or completely original characters and settings. Aside from the fact that the incorrect character may be shown, I rate this satisfactory overall. Some are more basic than others but they have personality.

Other Online Resources:

Koopa Computa Brain Drain

-Demian's Gamebook page here and here: These pages cover briefly all of the books with Demian's and a few other's opinions on them and some of their scores. Feel free to compare to mine though I suspect our methodology differ just a bit. The second page contains scans of some of the score cards and some visual differences between the American, Pringles, and British versions of the books.

-Mariowiki Nintendo Adventure Books entries. There are unique pages for all books as well as entries on some key items.

-Spectrum of Madness blog. More opinions on the books, going just a bit more in depth than the others and rating them somewhat.

-Gamesasylum coverage and map. Brief coverage on the series but also the home of the only map of these books aside from my own!

-VoVatia 'Nintendo in Book Form' coverage: More coverage briefly on each book.

-A TvTropes page that will ruin your life! Has spoilers, I mean.. if you care.

-Archive.org scans of Double Trouble. Some scans are a little grainy but it can get you through it.

-Imgur album photo scans of Flown the Koopa. The resource I used to create my guide.