Between 1992 and 1997 over 60 books were released in R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series. During this time, a television show, a board game, several gamebooks and as much merchandise as a Disney movie came to market. In 1996 at the height of that media blitz, Dreamworks Interactive in partnership with Microsoft gained the rights to develop a video game for Windows. The result is Escape to Horrorland, an FMV adventure that boasts Hollywood production value and the involvement of Steven Spielberg.
The Hollywood connection doesn't stop there either. Big-name actors pop up in the later portions that genuinely surprised me. Jeff Goldblum and Isabella Rossellini both have small roles towards the end of the game, but both were still big names at the top of their game. With the recent release of Independence Day and Jurassic Park: The Lost World only a year away, Goldblum was hailed as the highest-paid actor in the industry. That's quite a catch for an adventure game aimed at kids.
Perhaps that's down to Spielberg's involvement. In fact, one could say that the overall quality of the game could be down to him. It eschews computer-generated images for the most part in favour of miniature sets and costumed creatures. The effect is incredibly immersive. Played in the first-person, the other actors will often talk straight to you directly making you an active participant in the story. They have a personality and acting ability (along with a decent script) which is rarely associated with FMV adventures. It owes a huge debt to cinema, while still being first and foremost a game.
The story begins with your best friend, Lizzy, coming to you in a panic. Her family have been sucked into a portal to Horrorland, a ghoulish theme park for monsters she and her family have visited before in the book 'One Day in Horrorland'. Naturally, the two of you get sucked in too. Landing in Werewolf Village, you soon find your bother, Luke and his friend Clay trapped in stocks, desperate for you to release them. The village is surprisingly empty, but it's littered with evidence of the beasts that live there.
It won't be long before you encounter one of them, though. And when you do, you come upon one of the better-executed scares I've seen in a video game of the era. The werewolf is created with costume and make-up instead of dated CGI which still makes it stand out to this day. It has a believably articulated maw that is more frightening and realistic than anything the show has produced. The camera shifts as you fall to the floor and scramble to safety, but our silent protagonist still manages to catch a good glimpse for our benefit.
How the backdrops interact with the live actors is also very impressive. The areas are explored with 360-degree panoramic views and any action won't stop if you're looking the wrong way. Each and every point is alive with little animations, which makes the whole game a pleasure to explore.
While the game itself is pretty easy (it is for kids after all), exploring the horrific theme park perhaps holds the biggest draw. There are entire sections that are not necessary to complete the game but are there anyway and fully realised to boot. For example, early on in the game, you can snoop around a werewolf's residence. You won't be able to enter until you feed the man-eating plant guarding it a juicy steak so it's a puzzle in itself to enter. Inside there's nothing really needed but it's filled with spooky images and visual gags. There's even the man-beast's pin number to be found which will unlock a quick game of Battlezone - that classic arcade game - on the local ATM machine.
Another welcome addition that can be completely ignored is the quick-travel trash cans. These aren't your simple menu-driven conveniences but 3D action levels in the vein of Wolfenstein 3D. You don't have a weapon so you have to be extra careful of the garbage monster that scuttles around down there. The best tactic is to trap him using the many door switches nearby.
So this maze-like section isn't really as convenient or as fast as simply walking above ground, but you will find loads of precious coins strewn around. These can be used as currency to get clues from a mystical wall golem, but more importantly, they act as a lifeline. Every time you get hit, a coin is taken away. Don't worry though, as you're bound to find many throughout the game. There are 777 strewn all over the place and are actually a good excuse for snooping around everywhere. You know you're about to encounter something big when a mass-load of easily found coins surround you. That being said, I never dropped so low that I died, even with a lot of the hits being unavoidable.
There are some negatives that spoil the otherwise handsome production. The first flaw comes when you're being chased through the woods by a vampire. You have to follow the voice of Lizzy who is ahead of you, but the stereo sound didn't seem to work well for me. This made it a frustrating guessing game but I guess you may have more luck if playing with headphones. Some animations later on in the game become quite laughable, which is at odds with the quality that has come before. Defeating Isabella Rossellini's character ends in a joke that wouldn't be out of place in a Monty Python animated sketch. The game is also far too easy, with only a small number of puzzles. Considering the target age group, it's understandable but also a moot point when you factor in the large environments that more than keep you entertained.
I was late to the party when it came to R.L. Stine's super-popular supernatural series for kids. My first experience with the author came with an earlier Scholastic series called Point Horror aimed at the older teen crowd, even though Goosebumps was more probably more fitting for my age group. By the time this long-running series began, I'd moved on to the likes of Stephen King which I was still way too young for).
Goosebumps: Escape from Horrorland captures everything that made the series so much fun with an attached budget and production value that wouldn't be seen again until the 2015 movie starring Jack Black. Perhaps because of the name, I thought it would be a cash-grab with lazy design and gameplay but it is anything but. A highly recommended game that both kids and adults will get a kick out of.
To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses the DOSBox Daum build of DOSBox 0.74 running Windows '95. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
IMPORTANT - Remember to shut down the emulated version of Windows before exiting DOSBox. This could potentially result in errors, lost saves and corrupt data. Press Ctrl-F9 when it is safe to do so.
File Size: 1 Gb. Install Size: 1.48 Gb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Goosebumps: Escape from Horrorland is © Dreamworks Interactive
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me