Review: Choose Your Own Adventure - The Abominable Snowman DVD

By Gordon S. McLeod

As a longtime fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books and of interactive fiction in general, it was with great pleasure that I learned of the CYOA: The Abominable Snowman DVD about a month or so ago. (Note: This review was written years before being reposted in this blog.)

It’s been years since I read any of the books, but the memories rushed back quickly enough. I used to spend hours going through the various possible twists and turns the stories could take, dreading the early ending that death inevitably resulted in, doing my best to find the longest paths through the books.

When finally I saw the new DVD on a store shelf the other day, I snapped it up, eager to see what they’d done with the franchise. DVD is a video medium perfectly suited to this type of storytelling; indeed, this isn’t the first title that has tried this kind of storytelling in DVD format. A number of old laserdisc-based arcade games like Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace and their sequels have appeared on DVD, fully playable. There’s also the recent release of Final Destination 3, which has an interesting “create your own movie” mode where you select the fates of the various characters as you watch in much the same way that you play this disc.

So on to the meat of the review, shall we? Choose Your Own Adventure: The Abominable Snowman DVD boasts 11 possible stories, which disappointed me at first. Familiar as I was with the books, I expected more – but when I sat down to play this disc, it surprised me.

The experience is much like watching a good quality kid’s cartoon; the story goes on for some time before you’re called on to make a choice. There’s plenty to watch and pay attention to, and when the choice points do come up, they feel fittingly weighty and important.

If there’s one problem with the storytelling, it’s that it borrows a little too heavily from the children’s cartoon legacy that its format takes from. Unlike the books, which had you running the risk of dying at every turn, you don’t seem to be able to die at all in this DVD. This is a shame, as that constant looming specter of death was thrilling as a kid, and I miss it in this release.

The controls are also something of a problem; it took me well over an hour to master the choice controls. As I’m an avid video gamer, I’m used to learning new control systems, so this bothered me. I had a few unfortunate instances where I did not get the choice I wanted. I was not quick enough with the remote and failed to get the choice indicator that should appear while you’re selecting. I doubt they’ll be revising their stance on player death in future releases, but I do hope they’ll take a look at the controls a little more closely and refine them a bit for future discs.

The branches of the stories are distinct and imaginative. It’s been long enough that I can’t compare the endings to the ones in the print version, but experiencing them anew, I was pretty satisfied with the types of ends you could reach. You will find yourself journeying through various geographic areas with differing looks and feels, and you will meet various characters in different ways from story to story. The potential for repeat viewing on this disc is hard to beat.

The vocal cast is excellent, lead by William H. Macy and Frankie Muniz, with notable appearances by Lacey Chabert, Felicity Huffman and Mark Hamill. The animation and vocals are better than you’d expect to find in a cartoon TV show, resembling more what you’d find in many animated movies.

So now we reach the end of the review. You have two choices before you.

If you dismiss the Choose Your Own Adventure DVD from your mind, turn to another random web page. If you find it fascinating and want to experience more, turn instead to your favorite DVD retailer or rental service.

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