The thing I remember most fondly about Choose Your Own Adventure books, beside the wild and fantastic stories, was that you had a sense of making decisions, and that your decisions could lead to death. The books made no bones about it, you were dead, usually in a grisly manner, and it was your fault. After all, you made the choice. But, of course, if you kept your thumb parked on the decision page, you could quickly backtrack and tell yourself that wasn’t really what you meant to do. This proud tradition continues with Underground Kingdom, an interactive fiction book for iPad that’s based on an original Choose Your Own Adventure book, but is now separate of the series.
What is it?
Underground Kingdom is an interactive book. It’s not a game, except that you make decisions, and there are no puzzles to solve other than making your way through the story itself. You—a genderless character who’s face is never seen—are part of a scientific expedition to Greenland investigating a bottomless crevasse that may lead to a lost land inside a hollow Earth. And since the app is titled Underground Kingdom, chances are good that it will.
After falling into the crevasse, you’ll have to find your way back home as you make your way through a fantastic land filled with gigantic, rainbow colored birds and simian kingdoms, and you’ll either avert or take part in a war.
Then there’s the matter of the missing scientist, who fell into the crack more than a year ago. Can you make it home? Do you want to try?
How does it work?
After reading a page of story, you swipe to the next page, which might contain an illustration or a decision point. The illustrations have a few interactive elements—tapping on a character will make him speak a line, tapping on a hut will show you what’s inside—but these don’t affect the story at all. The decision points are two to three boxes, each of which make it clear what action you’re trying to take.
Once you make a choice, the story continues in the same fashion until you reach one of 23 endings; some good, some bad. If you immediately regret your decision, you can swipe back (just like turning a page), or you can take advantage of the menu page, which shows a map of all the pages you’ve visited, all the choices you didn’t take (indicated with a red dot) and all the endings you’ve encountered (indicated with a blue diamond). A handy counter also tells you how many of the endings you’ve unlocked.
And, of course, there is the ubiquitous social media feature, letting you send the results of your adventure to Twitter or Facebook, along with a brief description of how you ended up.
Is it addictive?
Underground Kingdom is a classic CYOA in every sense: pitched with a sense of childlike wonder at a fantasy world just ripe for exploration, but with dramatic stakes and consequences. Finding the “best” path is a matter of trial and error, with some choices leading to unexpected areas of the story. I was pleasantly surprised at how deep the story got; after coming to my first ending after a handful of choices, I was disappointed, then went back and discovered a much deeper branch on my second try that lead to an even wider branch to explore different parts of the hollow earth.
The book will evoke nostalgia for those adults who loved Choose Your Own Adventure, but is probably best pitched towards kids. The story is straightforward, the options are clear, and the illustrations are colorful and imaginative. And like I say, it keeps those wonderfully ghoulish endings where you’re left to contemplate how your own greed, foolishness, or outright bad luck brought you to a horrible, horrible death.