FF33: Sky Lord

David Anderson
Nicholas Campbell
Hugh Eldred-Grigg
Per Jorner
Laurence Sinclair
John Stock


[David Anderson]

I've finally found a gamebook weirder than Space and Beyond and Prisoner of the Ant People put together.

Sky Lord might be most the bizarre book I've ever read, period. In it, you control a space warrior who has been assigned to find and capture a crazed scientist who is rumored to have created a race of unstoppable warriors. It might sound like they just reinvented Space Assassin, but the results are even more bizarre than seeing what the cephalo squirrel is used for.

The first decision in the book is what method of rapid transit you'll use to travel from your home planet to the mad scientist's base of operations. Each has advantages and dangers, the reader is told, but nothing is done to inform the reader as to what they are. Also, during ship-to-ship battles with massive spacecraft, the reader is given options to change his ship's speed, heading, etc. using terms that made no sense to me, and the outcome of my decisions seemed totally arbitrary anyway. Same for when I had to choose a special weapon to use -- "You start to warm up your super-mason blaster when a gravity bomb blows you up." The lack of information is a constant throughout the book when making vital decisions, and you'll probably feel you'd be just as likely to succeed if you were to close your eyes and point to a choice at random or played "eenie-meenie-miney-moe."

This is a gamebook that simply cannot be completed without several play-throughs and foreknowledge of where the instant deaths and invaluable items are to be had. Even moreso than most Fighting Fantasy books, with the lack of intuitive decision making.

The whole book feels like a fever dream. Check out only if you want to see the weirder side of gamebooks.


[Nicholas Campbell]

Sky Lord was the last science fiction gamebook in the Fighting Fantasy series. I'm not much of a fan of the genre, but this book takes the biscuit. Ask a Fighting Fantasy fan (well, one who bought the books during the 1980s and 1990s) what he or she thinks is the worst gamebook in the series, and the chances are that they'll say Sky Lord. Really, this is a truly abysmal gamebook. Why? The reasons are many, so let's begin...

You are Sky Lord Jang Mistral, a four-armed warrior from the planet Ensulina, and King Vaax has sent you on a mission to stop L'Bastin - one of the King's former employees - from creating his army of dog-headed warriors, the Prefectas, and thus taking over Ensulina and getting his revenge on King Vaax. The background rambles on for several pages about L'Bastin's life story, and his hobby of creating bizarre mutant creatures.

The book seems to be intentionally wacky for no real reason. The book is full of bizarre mutants with silly names - a Deik (a purple mollusc), an Ixian (a three-eyed headless humanoid), Fog Farkin (a red-skinned, horse-faced criminal with no arms), Woderwick and Kogo (a bald purple-skinned man and his three-eyed cat), and a bunch of dog-like creatures called Yappies who come from the planet Quadranx-Mauve and like funky music. You will soon begin to question what illegal substances Martin Allen, the author of Sky Lord, was taking when he wrote the book. The locations you visit are of a similar nature.

There is also a lot of space travel to be done, and a few encounters with spaceships, some small, some enormous. Combat with small spaceships is fought in a way which means that you're quite unlikely to win. You will be howling in frustration if you stick to the rules. Take a hint from me - cheat and assume you always win these combats.

This is the single biggest failing of the book, but there's much more to come. Combat with large spaceships involves going through a convoluted series of correct choices; choose wrongly and you'll suffer for it, or be blown apart instantly (which is quite common). You are given no clues at all as to what you should do in each situation, so each of these encounters requires a lot of guesswork - and yet more frustration as you are killed instantly yet again. Oh, what fun! In contrast, the normal SKILL and STAMINA combats aren't challenging, and the final enemy you must kill to win is utterly feeble - a serious anti-climax.

Other faults are that LUCK is hardly ever used, there are hardly any items to collect, and although you're given 10 credits at the start of the game, there are only two opportunities to use them in the entire game. Furthermore, some copies of the book don't contain the two diagrams which are used to solve some puzzles in the game, but actually, this isn't a problem; the game can be completed without them.

If it isn't clear by now, I think Sky Lord is an absolutely awful gamebook, and I have no hesitation in saying that as far as I'm concerned, it's the worst of the 59 books in the Fighting Fantasy series. If you want to see how not to write a gamebook, take a look at it. I am frankly baffled at how it was ever accepted for publication.

Rating: 0/10


[Hugh Eldred-Grigg]

Okay, this one bites. It’s confusing, frivolous, swings between hugely difficult and ridiculously easy, and, to top it all, has bad art.

There isn’t much of a plot but what there is, I’ll summarise. You are a four-armed warrior sent to track down the fiendish L’Bastin, who is creating an army of dog-headed Perfect Warriors on the rogue planet of Aarok. I’ll note that, despite all the guff about Prefectas being brilliant fighters, I only fought two and neither of them led me to break a sweat. This is in fact a general complaint regarding the traditional SKILL/STAMINA combats ­ they’re too easy. Contrast to the less conventional starship combats, which tend to be heavily biased towards the opposition. There are also puzzles involving diagrams which aren’t included in the book.

Mechanics aside the setting doesn’t make sense either. It feels like somebody was trying to do surrealism or parody but, while a lot of the former and a bit of the latter can be a winning combination (as in the universally acclaimed Creature of Havoc) here it just doesn’t work.

It seems to just be surrealism for its own sake, which creates a world which makes no sense. One part of Aarok contains a bar, another a laboratory, another a funfair ride. And in the middle of it, L’Bastin and a fortress full of Prefectas! Why? Who knows? This is probably the biggest flaw of a book. It is unfair to ask a player to make the correct decisions when you put him in a setting which doesn’t follow any logic.

I’m not against sci-fi Fighting Fantasy books. Rebel Planet was good, Robot Commando was okay. A lot of them weren’t any good, however, and this is one of them. But its flaws are not because of its sci-fi setting, they are indigenous flaws all of its own.

There really is very little I can say in praise of this book. In fact it is probably the worst Fighting Fantasy book ever. At least Scorpion Swamp and Starship Traveller had some innovative concepts, whereas the only new concept this book comes up with is the starship combat, which is nothing more than an excuse to put you in fights you have a very low chance of winning.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, avoid this book at all costs!

Rating: 0.0/10


[Per Jorner]

The one thing you can't fault Sky Lord for is the background. Although the quest superficially resembles the same old "slay the warlock before he can release his hordes" - all right, _is_ the same old premise - the particulars actually make the introduction one of the most worthwhile in the whole series, or so I thought. Pretty much everything else you _can_ fault Sky Lord for. Brief initial attempts will reveal the vehicle combat system to be grotesquely unbalanced, with an experience feature that doesn't really have any effect. You will soon find that a substantial part of the book is made up by themed mini-games, pseudo-mazes and chase sequences, the reasons for which are not always very smoothly inserted; for instance, en route to saving the world you're ordered to stop and fight a space pirate, because that only has a 77% risk of utterly destroying you or something. As a rule of thumb, the more abstractly these sequences are presented, the less enjoyable they become. Whatever you happen to be doing, you will find that choices are uninformed and random and death awaits everywhere. Sky Lord apparently resembles Martin Allen's other creation Clash of the Princes in several ways, having more than a little Jack Vance make-up. Unfortunately, instead of successfully creating a zany and ironic space adventure, this just contributes to the vagueness and unpredictability. The main character is supposed to be a very capable space warrior, yet he blends perfectly into a world of randomness and incompetence and there isn't really anything you can do about it. Readers will tire of stumbling helplessly into indistinctly motivated instant deaths long before they near the end of the book and its amusing twist. Playing by the rules is entirely out of the question: no gamebook has this quickly and decisively made me give up on playing it properly, or even reading it semi-properly. Sky Lord is essentially bug-free and that's rare I suppose, but one could just as well say that the way it's constructed is a big bug in itself. To some extent I can see what Allen was going for, and two or three sequences are all right in themselves, but all the same this is easily the worst designed and least playable Fighting Fantasy gamebook I've read.




Sci-fi Fighting Fantasies are generally less popular than the more standard fantasy adventures, but they offer interesting options for authors in developing new game systems for things like robotic and starship combat. Star Strider, Robot Commando and Rebel Planet are among examples where the idea works - the author has created an interesting problem or quest, a believable fantasy world and a set of problems the reader is motivated to solve.

Unforunately in the case of Sky Lord, much of the storyline is like a bad B-movie plot. A lot of it doesn't even make much sense - a creepy villain tries to usurp a galactic king (huh?) by cloning and replacing his staff (why not just clone the king instead?); there's a random castle on one floor of the bad guy's fortress, owned by a harmless eccentric (what's he doing in there anyway?) but taken over by evil pirates who want to hold you ransom (for whom?) or cut you up (why?); you crash-land on a planet which handily happens to host someone with the power to reverse time - who just happens to be within walking distance of your crash site - and who just happens to have owned a droid you're likely to have just salvaged several light-years away... I didn't find a lot of it either interesting or believable.

The only difference from regular FF is the use of starship combat, and the factors determining this are so predictable in their effects as to render it almost pointless. The book is also frustratingly difficult for two reasons - firstly a lot of pages are devoted to a couple of very annoying floor-puzzles; secondly a lot of the "right" choices are so counterintuitive as to really take away from the problem-solving aspect of the adventure. With it being so lacking in believable storyline and so discontinuous and random, I'm barely motivated to figure out the ways past the various problems.

It has its moments - I rather liked the gelatinous blob chase subsection (though this is more like a self-contained miniquest than part of the adventure) - but overall it's one of the poorest FF books about. If you're after sci-fi solo adventuring then try the books mentioned above instead, or better yet get your hands on the two Star Wars gamebooks.


[Laurence Sinclair]

It's a sci-fi FF. If that isn't enough to put you off, let me tell you that you play the part of a four armed warrior whose mission is to avenge a lady who has had a pineapple grafted to her head.

Those of you still showing interest have me shaking my head in wonderment. This book is undescribably bad. The traditional combats are way too easy, while the spaceship duels are ridiculously balanced in the other direction.

There are puzzles in the book that require the use of diagrams that, for some reason, weren't included in the copy of the book that I own. There are flashy attempts at surrealism that just come across as messy. There is bad continuity between many of the paragraph links. Tim Sell didn't even bother to deliver his usual crisp atwork, instead just turning out rough sketches. Presumably he felt the same way I do about this book.

Trying desperately to find a good point about this book, I can only say that the cover is nice, but pretty pictures alone can't save a doomed space opera from total gut wrenchingly absurd plotting and characterisation.

Rating: 1 out of 10


[John Stock]

This was the last of the sci-fi FF books and probably one of my least favourite FFs. It was written by Martin Allen who (quite sensibly) was not permitted to touch FF again with a ten-foot bargepole. Who wouldn't prohibit him from writing FF after this performance?

The storyline redefines "scraping the barrel" - you, a four-armed galactic warrior who goes by the name of Sky Lord Jang Mistral, have been assigned a mission to penetrate the fortress of the evil geneticist L'Bastin before he can flood the galaxy with his dog-headed, merciless mutants. And as a side note, bump off L'Bastin and his Prefectas (what a name!). And all these objectives are top priority - no surprises there!

This isn't to say that the book is poorly written. The plot may be a total stretcher, but there are some good bits. The spaceship combat rules are a good idea, but poorly executed in my opinion. And there is an ingenious twist at the end, a twist that I will not tell you here!

The illustrations are a bit dodgy, but fairly sound. However, my biggest gripe about this book is its ease. The last enemy is pathetic, and no puzzles or vital bits of info are needed to win. Hmph!

So, overall, mediocre, and worthy of no special merit for anything at all - bad or good. No wonder nobody reviewed it on FF.com

MY RATING - 5.5/10