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Sky Lord - Martin Allen

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Genre: Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Author: Martin Allen / Edition: First THUS / Paperback / 256 Pages / Book is published 1988-06-09 by Puffin Books

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      07.09.2011 14:28
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      See what I wrote in the Ads/Dis columns? Yes. That. Again.

      Fighting Fantasy adventure gamebooks have their share of moments that make you sit up and go "Eh?" There are terrifying monsters that can be pacified with ointment, tiny balls of fluff which have voices loud enough to wake the dead and even -- in Creature of Havoc -- times when you have little control over your own actions. The regular player is used to a certain amount of strangeness, therefore... but Sky Lord absolutely takes the biscuit, and may well be the weirdest FF book ever written.

      This was the last of only a few FF books to have a science-fiction setting; the more traditional sword-and-scorcery pseudo-medieval worlds tended to grab all the glory, but there were actually some very interesting ideas in the handful of futuristic adventures in the series, not least the superhero-centric world of Appointment with F.E.A.R. I suppose you could say that there were some very interesting ideas in Sky Lord as well, but they may only have become so by accident, in the same way that throwing a collection of pens at a whiteboard may produce some interesting patterns.

      As the hero of this book, you play the part of Jang Mistral, a four-armed alien special agent from the 16th aeon. Your task is to stop the evil schemes of the traitor L'Bastin, renegade servant to your beloved King Vaax and mad genius genetic scientist. You think that's weird? Let me tell you, we've barely started on the weird yet... after being exposed by one of his own creations, in anger he disguised himself as a cosmetic surgeon and gained his revenge by visiting Vaax's queen, Broomhilda (honestly!) and grafting a pineapple to her head.

      You may now begin to see why several reviewers of this book have wondered openly what Martin Allen might have been smoking during its creation. As the same man was responsible for the more sober two-player FF adventure Clash of the Princes you can rather see their point! I'd go so far as to say that Sky Lord is perhaps better appreciated as a piece of experimental artwork than it is as an ordinary FF book. I certainly wouldn't recommend it to the newcomer to the series; in fact it's pretty hard to recommend to anybody thanks to some fairly substantial gameplay problems.

      The first and worst of these is its wildly uneven difficulty level. There are two main types of combat in Sky Lord: ship-to-ship combat and the usual hand-to-hand stuff. The former is ferociously difficult, partly because you are often simply asked to choose a set of numbers for pitch, roll and yaw that don't seem to bear much resemblance to what happens and partly because the opposing craft are often very tough in themselves. Contrast this with the personal combat, which is sometimes absurdly easy; this reaches its apogee (perhaps perigee would be more apt!) in the final battle of all, which is staggering in its anticlimax.

      On top of this, there are a lot of "instadeaths", pages where you turn to the reference given and are told curtly that the game is up. Of course, it's very common to see the dreaded "your adventure ends here" message all over the FF series, but in Sky Lord you often don't even get that. How's this for an end paragraph? "The blob soon catches and devours you." Just that. Actually, the sub-plot with the blob in question is one of the more enjoyable parts of the story, but this is hardly the only example; there's absolutely no sense in many of the "game over" references that your effort is being paid its due.

      What really makes Sky Lord so bizarre, however, is the whole playing environment; there are in-jokes and just plain jokes everywhere. There's a Lake Droog. A vicious sentient parasite is called Gnasha. A vital clue includes the number 42. One encounter involves a group of Yappies, "a race of intelligent canines from the planet Quadranx-Mauve", who for no apparent reason talk like an alien Fonz: "...terrifico! OK, we'll keep the beat box and you can space out o' here!" There's even a villain by the name of Woderwick - whether or not he must be "weleased" I'll leave you to discover for yourself!

      It's a complete waste of time trying to take Sky Lord seriously, because its strangeness is about all it really has going for it. Even Tim Sell's interior artwork isn't particularly memorable, unless you happen to like drawings of grimacing three-eyed alien heads. It's not really surprising that this book has never been re-released; the old Puffin edition can be picked up for a couple of quid, but you're in for a shock if you're unprepared. This is really the equivalent of a 1950s "so bad it's good" zero-budget film, and as such gets a single, solitary star. Very, very odd indeed.

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