Escape from a Video Game 3: The Endgame. By Dustin Brady.
Illustrations by Jesse Brady. Andrews McMeel. $11.99.
No one really expects a pick-your-path book series such as Escape from a Video Game to present any
profundity or even any profoundly involving mysteries. And that is a good
thing, since Dustin Brady’s books do not present much of anything that is
thought-provoking or mysterious. What they do offer, though, is some on-paper
enjoyment that provides a somewhat different experience from the video games (actual video games) to which the books
The finale of the Brady Escape
trilogy (not to be confused with the Brady Trapped
in a Video Game series) comes on the heels of The Secret of
Phantom Island, the first book, and Mystery on
the Starship Crusader, the second. The
Endgame takes place on Grim Island, a place that – as a front-of-book map
helpfully shows – contains areas labeled “Creepy Country,” “Museum of
Villainous Excellence,” “Dreadful Dump” and, most intriguingly, “???” The story
starts in a shopping mall – a throwback for sure, with at least some likely
readers of the story wondering, two-plus years after the start of the COVID-19
pandemic, just what a shopping mall is.
Anyway, the characters here are all supervillains, or supervillain-wannabes;
are drawn by Jesse Brady in suitably sort-of-video-game style; and are called
Alpha, Bonzai, Chaz, Miss Eleanor, and Dark Pulse (a purple fox). Alpha is the
reader…err, protagonist…err, you, if you are the one reading the book. Alpha
gets to choose to participate, or not, in this latest version of a game created
by “Bionosoft, the company that figured out how to put people into video games
[and] almost destroyed the world.” Oh, goody. There is an opt-out, but it simply takes you to the end of the book and
an invitation to reshelve the volume in a suitable section of a library. Nobody
Once the reader opts in, there are all sorts of puzzles to solve and places to go and
things to do and threats to handle and betrayals to negotiate and scary and
monstrous occurrences to manage and all that sort of stuff. There are also
passing references to really playing video games: “You’ve never figured out a
cheat code in your life. That’s what YouTube is for.” And “Every time you pass
up a weapon in search of an exploit, you get killed.”
Well, it’s all only a game, right? Of
course it’s an ominous game that, at
the same time, is never to be taken too seriously. And that is the point of the
whole Escape from a Video Game
franchise: it’s silly fun that is, well, fun and silly. Most pages give you
options of answers to give, and consequences depending on which you choose.
Other pages provide maps, overhead views of terrain, even – near the back of
the book – a view of the face of the builder of the whole thing (provided you
can adjust your vision in time-honored “Magic Eye” fashion). As in the other
entries in this series, there is a mildly snarky sense of humor at work, or at
play, in the writing: “‘For the tenth time, this is a video game!’ You’re
lying. This isn’t the tenth time you’ve had this conversation on the plane.
It’s at least the hundredth.” Also as in the earlier books, there are some
rather neatly named “achievements” to unlock: “Galaxy Brain,” “World-Class
Clingers,” “No-Good Varmints,” “Horseflies on a Hound,” “Never Trust a Bomb,”
and so forth. These help keep the story amusing, if scarcely mystifying – the
underlying mystery is nothing much.
The point of the Escape from a Video Game series is basically to be as pointless as video video games, but to do so in print form. There is no video here, no motion, no interactivity, no weird creatures morphing into other weird creatures through pixel magic (although that sort of thing is described in words). The series is just about as surface-level an entertainment experience as are video games themselves, but without the dopamine “hits” engendered by video success, and without the “time running out” elements, and without the various pulse-pounding parts that can make non-book video games so addictive. For kids who like video games, this series retains enough of the milder sort of gaming experience to be enjoyable, but it certainly does not take the place of the real (that is, unreal) thing.