Bloodbones Review: Seek Your Revenge On An Undead Pirate In The Latest Fighting Fantasy Gamebook
Tin Man Games is the purveyor of some of the finest digital gamebooks around, so it was a perfect match when they ended up getting the Fighting Fantasy license.
If you’ve somehow never heard of Fighting Fantasy before, they were a line of widely successful (physical) books that were basically Choose Your Own Adventure books mashed up with role-playing games, creating some . You would create a character with unique stats, get items, go on quests, and try to find the best ending while dying dozens of times on the way- all while reading a book. The quality of them ranged but at the very worst they are fun, pulpy silliness.
The digital adaptations have all been great thus far, kicking off with classics like like Blood of the Zombies and House of Hell, and they've been doing a good job of selecting titles that run a range of popular genre settings: horror (Blood of the Zombies) , fantasy, (Island of the Lizard King), Sci-fi (Starship Traveller), even super heroes (Appointment With FEAR).
Now, we have pirates.
Bloodbones is considered something of a “lost” book in the series, as it was set to be published in 1998 before a snafu resulted in it being shelved until Wizard Books picked up the license and finally released it in 2006. It's definitely not one of the strongest titles in their library but it does offer a fun adventure.
In it you are on a quest to kill the dread pirate Cinnabar, a dastardly seafarer who murdered your parents when you were a child. On your journey to find him your quest changes, as you hear that the pirate has already been killed. This surprisingly ends up not changing your goal one iota, as Cinnabar returns from the dead thanks to the powers of voodoo, and is even more of a force to be reckoned with.
Of course, you're a pirate yourself. You'll play the game choosing your path by tapping on selections along the way, getting into trouble quite frequently because that's what pirates do. The combat is very simple- you and your opponent roll two dice each and after whatever bonuses you might get from weapons and armor and such, whoever has the bigger number hits for two hit points. Over the course of the game you can find lots of objects to help you in your quest, including some like daggers that can be thrown before a battle to inflict damage and make it a little easier, or zombie dust that will take care of any undead in your path, but otherwise it's pretty straightforward.
It’s fast and fun and light, and you can flip your device quickly if you don’t like what numbers the dice land on, allowing you to cheat a tiny bit and make things that much easier. The dice react realistically thanks to the physics engine, as well.
Since the wrong step can kill you you have unlimited bookmarks no matter the level of difficulty you pick, which lets you go back and try every option easily. This feels cheap but it’s basically the same as sticking your thumb in the book and flipping to see what happens after one option, to make sure that your character doesn’t immediately die from your dumb decision.
One frustrating aspect of Bloodbones, however, is that you can easily set yourself up for failure without even knowing it. A couple of markets near the beginning of the story offer a variety of items you can purchase and you have no idea what will in handy later on, but you'll eventually find out which ones are essential- mostly because you simply won't be able to progress without certain items. No matter what you try or where you go you'll inevitably hit one of these bottlenecks that require you to have something on hand and if you don't, you're doomed.
It's annoying, although of course this does encourage you to restart the adventure with the knowledge of what you need in order to get the best ending. Of course, flipping through parts of the adventure you've already read isn't exciting, as you'll likely just skim over the parts you've read and just look for the new bits. The game thus suffers from the usual problem with these older gamebooks- namely that there's no real replay value once you've played through the story, but the adventure itself is a blast, as you'll face all manner of beasts and challenges and, of course, amusing deaths.
Bloodbones features the usual bells and whistles that we've grown to love from Tin Man's gamebooks. The wonderful art has been reworked and colorized, there’s maps of the locations that allow you to track your progress, and there are achievements to unlock that encourage you to examine every single option. Like the rest in the series it's a nice little package that's the perfect homage to the classic series, and well worth adding to your game library,