Castle of Spirits by Tammy Badowski
Warning! Review may contain spoilers!
Castle of Spirits by Tammy Badowski is a Windhammer 2014 competition entry. The village is cursed and people are turning into zombies! It’s a grass roots gamebook in which the player explores a haunted castle looking for the lord of the land. For a stern chat, I imagine.
Don’t try to bother saving us, for we are all doomed. A friend of mine went mad after coming out of that castle; he stabbed out his left eye with a dagger.
Castle of Spirits is incredibly old school. It has an 80’s Fighting Fantasy feel, and the obvious comparison is House of Hell. The major difference being is that that was all about escaping the house and this gamebook is about breaking into the house. This change in motivation makes everything a bit strange. You really wouldn’t want to stay here unless your character was some sort of deranged sociopath, and the books narrative kind of suggests this. After wading through a garden of body parts I think nothing strange of an old man raking the ground and a little boy playing with a toy. A little boy with black slits for eyes and the entire universe in his mouth, who gives a loud screech and then vanishes in a cloud of dust. The gamebook merely states “This experience has slightly startled you.” I then go and talk to the man raking the leaves.
These casual observations are a bit weird and detract from any horror there might actually be. There’s no slow build up to anything that might actually scare you. Once you get inside the castle you find a series of disparate rooms, each of which seems to be a self-contained universe housing a terrible creature. There’s a zombie room, a Jinn, a ghost, a golum, a minotaur, a snake..thing. I found myself wondering about the logistics of the whole thing and the practicalities. How do all these delightful entities actually live together? What is Christmas like? I bet the shower queue in the morning is horrendous.
There are plenty of sudden death rooms and there are no hints about where you should go, but this is how gamebooks used to be. If you are looking for a traditional gamebook experience then this is a lot of fun. But the gamebook genre has moved on and people are pushing boundaries – there’s lots of strong examples this year. This may only appeal to those with nostalgia.