I didn’t enjoy reading for personal enjoyment during elementary school. It wasn’t that I couldn’t read… I just couldn’t seem to find anything to grab my attention. But that all changed when my mom lucked into finding The Cave of Time. I was in fifth grade, and this was the very first book in the Choose Your Own Adventure series that would run for years and produce hundreds of books. Each book would provide a page or two of story and then a choice to be made:
If you seek shelter, turn to page 6.
If you brave the freezing wind to see more of the world, turn to page 16.
You would then turn to a page and continue reading until another choice was offered. Each book typically offered a couple dozen endings… some good… some bad.
I read The Cave of Time over and over and over again. I kept track of my decisions so I could find each and every possible endings. And when I finished that book, my mom got me the next one—Journey Under the Sea. And then the next one… By Balloon to the Sahara. I imagine my parents were secretly doing cartwheels when I’d take the latest book and head to my room to read it front to back.
I ended up with the first six books in the series (and I still have them) before I made the jump to other series such as The Three Investigators and The Mad Scientist Club. I’d finally figured out that reading books was enjoyable, and I’ve been a voracious reader ever since.
Jump forward 35+ years, and my oldest (age 10) is a bit of a reluctant reader himself. I pulled my six original books off the shelf, showed him how they worked, and off he went. I was even happy to see that the Choose Your Own Adventure series is still in print, and I picked him up a couple stories I never read. He definitely likes having decisions to make that affect the story.
Recently I got to put a new book into his hands that follows the same format. It’s called Midnight Arcade: Crypt Quest/Space Battles, and it’s written by Gabe Soria. This book offers two adventures—Crypt Quest and Space Battles—and this is the first book in the new Play-Your-Way series.
When the story begins, you (the reader) find yourself jumping a fence and entering an abandoned mall on a dare. During your exploration of the mall, you hear the sounds of an old ’80s arcade. Entering the arcade, you get lost in the maze of cabinets and sounds. It’s odd that the mall has no power, but the arcade is powered up. You find a young arcade attendant blocking your way out. When he hands you an arcade token, he motions towards two cabinets surrounded by an eerie mist. You feel compelled to stay and play… but which game will you choose?
If you want to play Space Battles, head to 129.
If you want to play Crypt Quest, head to 167.
Each choice you make has a page number and a number of dots. You turn to the page and then look for the dots that indicate where you should pick up reading. It’s a bit different from the CYOA books in that the book packs a LOT more adventure into the 244-page hardback. (The CYOA books typically ran around 120 pages.)
Now, here’s the cool part—at various times in the book, you’ll be presented with an image of the arcade controls. Do you move the joystick left, right, up, or down? Each choice has a corresponding page # and dots. There are also buttons to push. The Sword button is a choice you can make if you wish to fight a creature in Crypt Quest. Or if you’re playing Space Battles, you can press the left button on the control yoke to fire lasers.
I’m not going to ruin any of the surprises for you. All I will say is that I had a blast reading the book myself. I loved both adventures, but the Crypt Quest has to be my favorite of the two. I flashed back and found myself tracking my decision and re-reading the story to try to WIN. And there is an END. But there are also plenty of Not-So-Happy-Endings… all of them fun to read, however. (And when you DIE, just like an arcade game, you’re given the choice to Play Again along with a page number to jump to when you “revive.”)
The arcade controls that play a part in the decision making are pure genius. Kids who would rather play a videogame than read a book may very well forget they’re reading as they fly their ship or swing a sword. I know my oldest enjoyed the book, and he read it out loud to me a few times in the car and let me make the choices. That’s a win! I am hoping that this is a series that will continue for many years, as I have a 7 year old who is also showing some resistance to reading.
Midnight Arcade: Crypt Quest/Space Battles releases on February 13, 2018. The second book in the series, Midnight Arcade: Excellent Ernesto Cousins 3/Wrestlevania is due out in September 2018.
Note: I’d like to thank Penguin Workshop for providing a review copy of the book.