Stranger Things has captured the hearts of viewers worldwide with its nostalgic 80s setting, compelling characters, and thrilling storyline. The show’s fusion of science fiction, horror, and mystery has made it a cultural phenomenon while ringing that nostalgia bell for all of us former 80’s kids. It seems like a no-brainer that a tie-in Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) book would have to show up at some time. I’m unsure if they plan to release other Stranger Things titles. This first one is called Heroes and Monsters and it’s set during the fourth season of the show. It was written by Rana Tahir, illustrated by Patrick and Katherine Spaziante, and published by ChooseCo — the official company behind all the CYOA titles. Please note that Choose Your Own Adventure is a registered trademarked term owned by ChooseCo.
If you grew up in the 1980s or 1990s there’s a better-than-good chance that you picked up one of these titles at some point. The Cave of Time (1979) was the first book in the series and was released just in time to foster interest for many future role-players like me. CYOA didn’t invent the format but they really popularized the use of branching narrative in books. In fact, CYOA has become almost synonymous in many people’s minds with the format that ChooseCo has received not always positive press because they have sued other companies for using the term to protect their trademark. Many other lines followed with similar formats. Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf and other gamebook series took the idea and added game mechanics to provide more of a role-playing game (RPG) experience. The original series appears to have ended in the nineties but like all things from the era, they have been making a comeback with new titles.
In terms of nostalgia, I have to mention the cover. They went with a style exactly like the original CYOA line us old timers grew up with and made the cover appear weathered with some yellowed coloring and what look like scratches and bends. It really does look like a book from the 80s with the exception of the size. It’s a bit bigger than the old trade paperback-size books. You could imagine somebody picked this up at the mall at their local Waldenbooks and had it sitting in a box in the attic for the past thirty or forty years. I had to sniff it just to make sure they hadn’t found a way of replicating that old book smell. I personally really like the cover art, but, found the interior art to be fine but nothing to write home about. It does fit in with the old style they’re going after but it just isn’t that inspiring.
You don’t play Eleven, Mike, Dustin, or any of the Hawkins crew. As the reader, you play the role of a high school reporter in California who attends the same high school as Eleven at the beginning of season four of the show. This is probably a good idea because there are so many great characters in the show, I don’t know how they would choose which one(s) to let readers portray. The main character is preparing to attend a journalism conference in Hawkins so there are a couple of ways to get inserted into the story. As you read through the book you are faced with choices — each of which pushes the story in a different direction. Some of those just end up with your character tagging along and watching events from the show unfold. Others change the plot and fate of your character as well as those from the Hawkins crew to a degree.
There are 297 pages. That may sound like a lot as each is a different passage; but, many just say something like Turn to the Next Page etc. to break up longer sections of text. It’s definitely interactive but if you’re a fan of more traditional gamebooks you will find that the number of actual choices is on the slim side. As the cover states, there are 25 different endings but it doesn’t take that many choices to get to any of the ones I followed. This limits replayability. While it may be presented to look like our old childhood books, the content is only marginally watered down. Characters can die. Some of the endings include the death or more often clearly imminent death of the reader’s character and others. In terms of the text, it’s probably assumed that readers are at least somewhat familiar with the show. I found the descriptions of the characters, locations, etc. to also be a bit on the thin side. My imagination filled it in having watched the show but if you haven’t, it may be less satisfying.
Fans of Stranger Things will undoubtedly enjoy immersing themselves in this interactive journey through Hawkins, the Upside Down, and other locations from the show eagerly exploring the different paths and endings the book has to offer. A good part of the fun comes from interacting with the characters and locations from the show. The book itself may not stand up very well on its own though for people who haven’t watched the series. If you are already a fan of Stranger Things, and if you like interactive fiction, I think it’s easily worth the price of admission and you’ll have fun. If not though, you may want to hold off on this one. What I’d personally really like to see is another one that focuses on completely different characters so the story and events are more unique.
Note: Trademarks, titles, and example artwork from reviewed titles are used for illustrative and editorial purposes only. No ownership of those or their trademarks is claimed or disputed by Retro Roleplayer.