Tuesday 20 August 2013

Starlight Adventures


Series Overview by Mark Lain

The short-lived and relatively unknown Starlight Adventures series were intended as Puffin’s female answer to Fighting Fantasy. Plots were designed around what the production team presumably felt were girl-centric ideas (horses, nurses, good-looking boys, etc) and the common thread was sassy and ambitious young women keen to do well in life. The setting was the modern world (well, 1985) and frequent cultural references help to trap these books in a time-warp, in particular, an ongoing obsession with Duran Duran that keeps surfacing in several of the books, along with 80s fashion motifs and an over-riding sense of mid-80s capitalism as success and wealth feature heavily as the ultimate aims of these books (and your characters quite often seem to be expected to be impressed by these.)

To see these as “adventures” is stretching a point. The majority certainly have an element of Enid Blyton-ish uncovering of wrong-doing (one is even set at the seaside, albeit in Greece) so there is a sense of discovery more than of traditional adventuring, whilst one is something of a manic pursuit across America (which I suppose you could say is a modern “adventure” of sorts), but the idea of a “mission” as such is absent, rather your character’s ambition and the discovery that you are in the midst of various forms of treachery is the prime motive.

Unusually for adventure gamebooks, these books are gender-specific in that your character is always female. This is not an issue as such, but it does make the playing experience feel slightly distant and alien if a male is reading them. On the plus side, there is also an element of ironic fun to be had from trying to avoid being seduced by various plotting men (and sometimes letting temptation get the better of you as a minor aim of some of these is to find happiness in romance) and in being reminded in general what made people tick in the mid-80s as well as the retrospectively very apparent feeling that there is a patronising womens’ lib thing going on here that is now very anachronistic (even though you are almost always made out to be quite attractive looking and you can use this to your advantage.)

In most cases, there are no rules to speak of and there is no system of any kind in these books. Instead each book has its own mechanics, ranging from having no system whatsoever (ie your decisions are all that can affect your progress) meaning there is no element of gaming-style chance at all, through dice rolls and/or coin tosses to determine key outcomes, occasional zodiacal influences, right up to a complex system of Lucky Numbers based on your date of birth!

The low challenge level of this series coupled with the relative brevity of an end-to-end playthrough make these books seem rather simplistic (with two specific exceptions: #3 Island Of Secrets and #6 Trance) as in some cases it is very hard to lose and there are even one or two where losing is not actually possible at all! In this sense, the simpler entries feel quite close to the often inane Choose Your Own Adventure series of gamebooks. However, dues must be given to the more involved books in the Starlight cannon, and two in particular are quite tough and take several playthroughs to even start to figure out what is going on, which does add an element of intrigue.

None of these books have ever been re-printed (not even by Puffin) and, in fact, I have no recollection of ever seeing any of them in the shops even when they first came out. Until recently, they were very tough to track down, although tatty second hand copies are starting to surface at very low prices (possibly because the sellers don’t know what they are?) on several online sales sites. To say the series deserves a re-appraisal is to probably give it too much credit as, whilst they are (mostly) inoffensive and there are far worse ways to spend a spare half an hour, none of them really capture the imagination and they are ultimately quite mundane. Their rapid disappearance is no real surprise as Starlight is the only one of Puffin’s numerous Adventure Gamebooks series that could be said to be a commercial as well as critical failure.

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