July 07, 2022


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 are related.

     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 wants that.

     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.

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