I have a soft spot for traditional cell animated movies. You can see the effort of every ink and painter up there on the big screen. Even when, like The Pagemaster from 1994, the movie itself is a little mediocre there's no doubt I'll put aside its misgivings and thoroughly enjoy it. That same year, a number of videogame adaptations came out, including this little known adventure game published by Turner Interactive.
Despite being a love letter to the written word and heavily aimed at primary schoolers, there is very little educational value in the game. You could say that about the movie too which all too often became a quaint parody of some of literature's most revered work - few of which are age-appropriate. The game delves deeper into the classics by featuring more of them acting as a sequel of sorts.
You'll find several important books on your journey, as well as the missing pages with them.
Both will give you points, but the latter will grant clues or commentary from within the text.
After the events of the movie, Richard Tyler (Macaulay Culkin in the film, the much cheaper Ben Kimball in the game) has checked out Horror, Fantasy and Adventure from the library. These three personified tomes warn you, the now permanently animated Richard, that the Pagemaster has disappeared putting all of imagination at risk. It is up to you to find him, whether you want to or not. Seriously, despite the option being there, you cannot deny them.
When you reach the library, you find that it was Dr Jekyll's alter-ego, Mr Hyde that kidnapped the wizardly word-man and as a result, chaos has beset the bookshelves. Hardcovers are mixed paperbacks! Books on needlepoint sit alongside Captain Courageous! Pandemonium I tell you!
Going the wrong way or doing the wrong thing will lead to a comical 'death' scene. You'll only lose
unimportant points and a few screens of backtracking so I recommend hunting them all down.
The pathways to the realms of Horror, Fantasy and Adventure (other genres be damned) are now open to you and you can visit them in any order. You will have to travel back and forth between each as items are not self-contained so expect a lot of backtracking. The puzzles are more or less simple fetch quests or trial-and-error responses so it's not going to test you as much as you'd probably like.
At the bottom of the screen is the 'Decision Star' where you can select conversation responses. These are basically 'Yes' or 'No' with 'What' repeating the question and 'Go' skipping cutscenes (though is also an answer at one point). In the middle is a gemstone which will show some 'Books & Stuff'. This is essentially your inventory, of which some can be used as a response as well.
The spooky land of Horror. Meet Frankenstein and resolve his need for a life partner.
All these options can lead to a fair few alternative scenes with the only penalty being some points lost and being sent a few screens back from where you were. My only gripe is that it's not entirely clear what can and can't be done. The worded responses are obvious enough but using an item won't do anything unless it's the right item at the right time. Many of the cutscenes are not separate to the gameplay meaning you can manipulate them by using items or searching the background. They are timed too, so any action you need to accomplish has to be done before the scene is over. Fail, and you'll have to leave the screen and come back. Not a big deal but unless you know something has to be done here, it may pass you by.
There is a point where the story will diverge in the Horror realm. A well-spoken Frankenstein's creature gives you the option to create or find a girlfriend and both are enjoyable enough to play. Even the creation of a bride has several heads to discover and use.
Fantasy land. Visit many fairytale characters before answering the riddle of the Sphinx.
Other than Jekyll & Hyde and The Modern Prometheus, the land of Horror features references to The Raven, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Invisible Man among others. Adventure land has the same Moby Dick and Treasure Island side stories as the movie as well as some jaunts into Egypt and a run-in with a genie. Fantasy land focuses on Jason and the Argonauts, Jack and the Beanstalk and other assorted generic fairy tales.
While it's nice to see some of these characters in such a way the game has the same issues that the movie had. Many of the elements in each area are not taken from any specific book but are instead cliched generalisations of the genre. Ghosts, pirates, dragons; all feature in genre tales but many of them depicted here are not recognisable to any specific publication.
Adventure land, where a ship's captain hunts treasure, whales and golden sheep shears.
The reason for this is probably because of the movie itself. Many - if not all - of the animations are lifted from the feature film, rescanned and digitised for the game. A fair share of the backgrounds come from there too. To be fair, the developers at Mammoth Micro Productions do a good enough job with the new art created for the game that it all blends somewhat seamlessly. The animation, while laudable for the time, is stilted and stiff from the dropped frames with awkward pauses just to fit the dialogue in. In all honesty, it detracted from the whole experience for me.
The Pagemaster is obviously aimed at kids. It is very easy, boasts little complexity and displays the same bright colours of the movie. The art of the design worlds are as inviting as the film it is based on, though it has the same amount of depth behind them. As a result, your enjoyment of the game will almost certainly equal that of the film. I like enough of both to not regret my playthrough but those without nostalgia for a less-than classic cinema experience may feel differently.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox running Microsoft Windows 3.1 to get the game working on modern systems. Press Ctrl-F4 when prompted to change CDs. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 576 Mb. Install Size: 1.13 Gb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
The Pagemaster is © Turner Publishing & Mammoth Micro Productions
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me