May 20, 2021

(++++) GAMING

Bunny! Don’t Play with Your Food. By Paul Schmid. Andrews McMeel. $8.99.

Escape Book: Madam Mortell’s Haunted House. By Arthur Ténor. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

Fall Guys: The Unofficial Guide to Staying on Top. By Stéphane Pilet. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

     There’s a whole new meaning to “playing with food” in Paul Schmid’s delightful board book about a little bunny and a scrumptious carrot. The cover gives a hint of what is to come: the carrot is on a plate and has two punctures that clearly reflect Bunny’s vampire teeth, which protrude from his mouth and are carrot-colored at the bottom and white at the top. Schmid makes the point extra-clear by showing Bunny wearing a traditional Dracula cape. Clearly, this is not a book about “playing with food” in the sense of pushing little bits of it around on a plate or stacking and smushing mashed potatoes. Bunny has an absolutely wonderful imagination, or rather Schmid does on Bunny’s behalf. One page has an orange Bunny with black stripes (“Tiger Bunny”) racing down toward a pool of water to pounce on “the tasty Carrotpotamus.” Another shows green, lurching Bunny the Zombie as he “creeps towards the poor, helpless carrot.” There is also Bunny the Wolf, who “gobbles Little Orange Riding Hood!” These and other off-the-wall concepts make Bunny! Don’t Play with Your Food an absolutely marvelous book for pre-readers and very early readers – a book that will likely fire young kids’ imagination and help them come up with their own versions of playing with food. Hmm. Oops.

     For older kids, to whom video game-playing is the norm, today’s game-related books fall into several categories. One approach is the choose-your-path book, which sort of offers a video-game-ish experience by giving readers alternative places to go in order to gain treasure or points or something along those lines – or, by choosing the wrong places to go, leads readers to get lost or even lose lives (strictly in the video-game sense of having multiple ones available). Arthur Ténor’s (+++) Escape Book: Madam Mortell’s Haunted House is typical of this type of offering. The idea is that you enter a haunted house, meet various ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night (or the day, for that matter), and eventually solve enough mysteries and puzzles to get out of the place safely. The book relies heavily for its effects on mild, semi-scary language that is not really intended to be taken seriously: “If you ever become Count Dracula’s vampire servant, you can dust his library – FOREVER!” Or: “Any choice could kill you! Mwahahaha!” The reader/protagonist gets a little help now and then from a snake named (what else?) Slither: “Looksss can be dessseiving.” There are five “H” sections at the book’s end to help with the keeping of lists of found objects, assist in number combinations, and so on. There is a map showing locations within the house, most identified by multiples of 10 (that is, 20, 30, 40, and so on) but a few with different numbers (34, 73, 74). There are chapters with such titles as “The Tomb Puzzle” and “The Monsters’ Ballroom,” and there are simple word scrambles (“tempy” for “empty,” “idols” for “solid,” and so forth) and many silly names (Al Phantome, Zany Spazzombie, etc.). The idea is to interact with various characters, pick up various objects and bits of information, put things together according to various rules, and eventually escape from the haunted house. When described that way, the book does indeed sound a lot like a video game – minus the video, audio, screen-based interactivity, pad or keyboard controls, and so on. It is best seen as a mildly amusing foray into sort-of-video-game-ish tale-telling – short, easy to follow, and thoroughly nonthreatening.

     Another approach for video-game-oriented books to take is an explanatory one, an example being the (+++) Fall Guys: The Unofficial Guide to Staying on Top by Stéphane Pilet. A sticker-like circle on the front cover notes that the book offers “Tips & Tricks to Stumble Your Way to Glory,” and that is a pretty fair description – provided that a reader not only knows the Fall Guys game but also is devoted to it. Although this is an unofficial guide, not produced or endorsed by anyone actually involved in creating or managing the game, it is written by someone who understands the game well and has presumably spent considerable time playing it. It is a short book, only 86 pages, but packed with information on the Fall Guys characters, maps, obstacles, mini-games and more. The book opens with a brief description of the game, which involves maneuvering 60 beans through five rounds that include solo races, team activities, and survival-mode events. The game gets its title from the fact that the beans often fall and thus are eliminated from competition, and the book explains how and why that happens and how to (try to) prevent it. The advice makes sense only if you are familiar with the game’s setup: “Try to be as perpendicular as you can to the edge of the platform you’re jumping off or on.” The behavior recommendations likewise depend on understanding the mechanics (actually electronics) of the game’s workings: “As long as you both hold the grab button, you can’t shove one another. Whoever lets go first will be pushed.” Most of the book describes specific elements of Fall Guys and how to negotiate them. Regarding “Door Dash,” for example, “you have to go through a series of doors to get to the finish line. It’s easy – except that the course narrows after each door, and most of them are actually walls you can’t go through!” Understanding game terminology is also a must for making sense of this book and finding it useful: “If there’s a yeetus, you can use it to propel yourself to the front of the group,” and “teams have to hold pegwins for as long as possible.” Each element of the game is categorized (“race,” “hunt,” “team”), and the book gives the basics of what each game portion includes and how to do a better job of conquering it (which means different things at different points in the game). Fall Guys players will find plenty of tips and recommendations in this little guidebook, although much of what the book says is obvious to anyone who plays the game: “The pendulums can make things confusing, and it’s easy for your enemies to corner you.” The book is strictly for kids who are already committed to and intrigued by Fall Guys, and it makes no attempt to interest non-players in trying the game. It certainly does not take the place of actual game play, but it may make Fall Guys more fun for some enthusiasts who are looking for a bit of help, here and there, in negotiating the game’s ups and (many) downs.

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