This clone is on trial for crimes against good taste
I’d never heard of Zach Weinersmith, author of Trial of the Clone, but I probably should have. The author of a popular webcomic, he decided to try his hand at writing a gamebook and gathered the necessary funds via Kickstarter. The resulting book has now made its way to iOS and into my review queue.
You’re probably familiar with the idea of gamebooks. Read a page, and you’re presented with a number of choices, each of which takes you to a different page with its own choices and so on, allowing you to chart a unique path through the story on each read. There are some simple role-playing mechanics tacked on for combat and skills test, but we won’t talk about those.
Why not? Because the purpose of this gamebook, unlike most others, isn’t really to challenge the reader, or to provide a solo role-playing experience. Its purpose is to entertain.
I have never seen the humour value in books. Comedians, comedy TV and films, and comic strips certainly, but not books. I’ve enjoyed many humorous novels for their story, or their characters and the jokes just wash over me and barely raise a smile. There are exceptions: Three Men in a Boat, Terry Pratchett at his absolute best. And now, Trial of the Clone as well.
The jokes are often puerile, in questionable taste, or puns so excruciating that you’re in danger of straining facial muscles with all the wincing. But they’re on every page, in multiple lines, without fail so some of them can’t help but hit the mark. And, so help me, I happen to like puerile jokes and awful puns. At one point in the book, involving a celibate monk and a bowling ball, I didn’t just laugh but wept in hysterics.
In addition to the crude jokes, the book makes equally crude attempts at satire and again, aims its sweep so widely that it almost can’t help but to work some of the time. Star Wars is parodied mercilessly as a central theme, but almost everything in the canon of popular nerd-dom gets referenced at some point. It even wades into social and political issues on occasion, with mixed results.
Sense of humour is obviously a fairly personal thing, especially because a lot of the material here pushes the boundaries of good taste. So we have to ask how well the book holds up if you don’t enjoy the jokes. The answer, regrettably, is not terribly well. The story is solid, with some unexpected twists, and it’s also unusually long for a gamebook so there’s plenty to read. It does offer a couple of fun puzzles too, but most of the adventure aspects end up conflicting with the comedy.
There’s rarely any clue as to what the “right” choices are, and indeed the book actually plays with the uncertainty to add humour. The lightweight role-playing combats and challenges turn out to be mildly annoying since they slow down the barrage of jokes. I didn’t much care for the overly-cartoonish artwork, either.
There are a few bugs too, although while playing the app it updated itself twice so I imagine the developer, Tin Man Games, is on top of that and fixing as I write. Aside from that the game has all of their usual quality hallmarks such as a good soundtrack. As an added aural bonus you can opt to have Wil Wheaton reading the book out as you play, so the app even doubles as an audiobook.
Another Tin Man specialty is an enticing gallery of achievements. As well as their standard list of trophies and and an artwork checklist, this book also has a gallery of achievements related specifically to uncovering the worst puns in the text. I like to see a lot of achievements in a gamebook app because it encourages replay value, often a weak point in the genre. But with Trial of the Clone I found myself itching to replay it just to see more jokes.
This is the first gamebook I’ve played where I was completely disinterested in the hardcore mode, which offers the toughest challenge. Instead I spent all my time with it in cheat mode, bypassing those annoying RPG elements, flicking back and forth through the book and just soaking up the humour. As an actual gamebook, its value is limited. But if you like cheap jokes, this is an app that keeps on giving.