When it comes to gaming, these guys wrote the book(s): PETER HOSKIN reviews Shadow Of The Giants and Secrets Of Salamonis
Shadow of the Giants and Secrets of Salamonis
(Books, both £7.99)
Verdict: Down memory lane, with an oathd
Fighting Fantasy is 40 years old. For those, like me, who spent their childhoods with their fingers spread over different parts of a book while fighting the minions of the terrible sorcerer Zagor, this is cause for celebration – and also a chilling reminder of your age.
For those who endured sadder, more limited childhoods, here are a few facts. Fighting Fantasy is a series of gamebooks that have sold millions. They are games where you choose how you want to proceed: go to numbered section 372 if you want to drink the mysterious liquid; turn to 157 to throw it at the she-elf… that sort of thing. Every so often you have to roll some dice to face a gang of slathering goblins.
To mark the anniversary, the makers of Fighting Fantasy, Steve Jackson and (the newly knighted) Ian Livingstone, have released a couple of new books, Secrets of Salamonis and Shadow of the Giants. It’s tempting to call it a return, except that since 2017 the children’s publisher Scholastic has been reprinting both old Fighting Fantasy books and new ones, by authors like Charlie Higson and Rhianna Pratchett, at a pretty decent pace.
Yet it still feels like a return. Here are two volumes of the great, high-ranking warlocks of Fighting Fantasy, with many references to the books of yesteryear, and illustrations (by Tazio Bettin and Mike McCarthy) that recall the classic 1980s artwork. This is comforting territory for adults who were once children with swords.
The style of each book is also recognizable. Livingstone’s Shadow of the Giants is a pleasantly straightforward romp that begins with a cursed crown and continues into the mud and humor of its medieval world. While Jackson’s Secrets of Salamonis (written with Fighting Fantasy’s leading scholar, Jonathan Green) is longer and a bit more complicated in both the gameplay and the whirlwind story.
And, my god, they’re both cheeky! Bad decisions result in an instant death or disability that makes the rest of the adventure significantly more difficult. No wonder Hidetaka Miyazaki, creator of this year’s video game Dark Souls and the Elden Ring, has mentioned his love of Fighting Fantasy in the past. His one-foot-wrong-and-you’re-done philosophy comes straight from the Livingstone and Jackson school.
Because this is the legacy of Fighting Fantasy: it’s the link between games as we understood them then and games as we understand them now.
And with these constant new releases, it’s now sort of a link between generations. Once my one-year-old is a bit older, I’ll play Shadow of the Giants and Secrets of Salamonis with him again. All this so he can experience the thrill promised by Fighting Fantasy’s tagline: YOU are the hero!