Aha! Aha! Ah-hah!
I don't remember much about this book.
Everyone I have mentioned it to has very fond memories of it. And I remember getting a copy of it for christmas one year, a year I also got Scorpion Swamp. I do remember that IofLK was damn good though, so it seems I agree with people who I've mentioned it to. It's just that I'm damned if time hasn't scrubbed the reasons as to WHY it was good from my mind.
Let's refresh my memory on it, shall we?
The game begins as I walk into Oyster Bay, a small fishing area which has recently been plagued by raids from the nearby titular island. Lizard men have been abducting the villagers and forcing them to work in mines, so I've been asked to go and rescue them. That's a pretty good story, actually. I lucked out on my stamina roll, with a healthy 23. Skill and Luck are both a moderate 10.
An old friend gives you a ride on his boat to the island, and you promptly begin the adventure. The island boasts a wide array of landscapes visible even at this early stage - we can see forests, we've heard of the mines, and there's an ominous smoking volcano in the distance. Will we live to see it up close?
Me and my old friend, whose parents evidently hated him enough to name him Mungo, start to explore the beach. I find a ruined old hut, and while I'm on my way to check it out, Mungo manages to get crushed in the claws of a giant crab, thereby fulfilling the unwritten rule that any companion you find in a Fighting Fantasy game will quickly die a tragic and horrible death. I kill the crab, and Mungo gets to have a few last words before he dies.
Okay, enough of that. Digging through the hut, I find a note left by a previous inhabitant who tells me that many of the plants on the island are poisonous and that he advises drinking from a bottle of anti-potion that he left behind. I give this a few gulps and then make camp for the night. The book details the cacophony of wildlife noises on the island, and I'm impressed with how atmospheric it all seems.
I trudge my way through the jungle, hacking my way through the foliage with my trusty sword. Growing tired from making such slow head-way, I take a rest by one of the large trees. I awake some time later to find that the tree has ensnared me in its vines and is trying to eat me. Sometimes I wonder about why this kind of thing happens to me. Eaten by a carnivorous tree, not a noble way to go. I manage to pull myself free, and flee from the creature - right into the waiting clutches of a gang of headhunters.
If you've ever seen the end of 'Cannibal Holocaust', then you've a pretty good idea what's about to happen. My stamina is beaten down to single-figures very easily. And even though I'm able to snarf down some meals over the course of the next few segments, I still feel rather sore. It was pretty rough to send three headhunters at me so early in the adventure.
Still, it isn't long before I manage to encounter a rather friendly figure, in the guise of a former prisoner who has taken to living in a small hut in a tree. I use 'friendly' in the loosest possible way, because the first thing he does is throw coconuts at me. He then demands that, to earn his friendship, I give him three of my meals, and in return he gives me a lockpick and tells me that I should follow the general direction to the volcano.
Would anyone mind if I threw him to the cannibals?
What follows is a series of very unusual and silly encounters which I manage to screw up in a variety of interesting ways, which I will hereby dub "MJ touches and chews on weird stuff that he probably shouldn't". You could make a youtube series out of it, if you had the time. The first one is a variety of weird mushrooms that I find growing on a log near a dragonfly I'd just cut in half
Seriously, who wouldn't want to eat some weird mushrooms they find in the forest? I reach out to it, and it spits some spores into my face, which cause my skin to blister. The book then asks if I want to ignore this and hope it will go away, which is very sensible medical advice that I'm sure any doctor will recommend. "Oh, your face has bubbled up due to toxic fungus irradiation? Just ignore it, you'll be fine. Or dead. But probably fine."
Instead I decide to scrub my face with leaves, which seems to take away the pain and ease the sensation. Feeling much better, the book then asks if I still want to eat the toxic evil death mushroom. I say "Sure" and snarf some of it down. In a shocking twist, I am then violently sick - who'd have ever suspected THAT would happen?
Coming to the next clearing, I find a strange glowing crystal standing alone in a patch of sunlight. There are no trees growing near it, so I do the sensible thing and whack it with my sword. My sword breaks, reducing my skill points. Not particularly surprising, really. I'm offered the change to touch the weird glowing crystal, and I decide that this will be a bit of a laugh. Rather than setting me on fire, it actually heals me. What an odd little item. I leave it where it is and continue on my way.
|Not to self - all mushrooms are evil|
The ground starts to get wetter and more swamp-like as I progress, and I am soon wading through a deep marsh. I'm actually really enjoying the atmosphere of the book - the island isn't huge, but you've got a real feeling of a believable landscape which fits together naturally. Soon though, it becomes apparent that I am not alone in the marsh - I am being followed by Gollum, determined to recover his lost ring. Well, not exactly Gollum, but it is a marsh hopper - a sinister little goblinoid who wants nothing more than to lure lost travelers into the waiting lairs of vicious monsters.
So I follow it. And guess where it takes me?
If your answer was "into the lair of a vicious two-headed Hydra that eats you" then you might be right. There is a fight, but I don't stand a realistic chance. I'll be honest though, the actual mechanics of the fight is pretty good, as it's one of those early instances where you have to fight two monsters (ie, both heads) at the same time. But with my damage to my skill I'd taken earlier, I just don't stand a chance.
I wonder if both heads wound up arguing over who got to eat me....
So, let's see what was lurking down the other path, shall we? The following parts are a little bit of an expansion to this post, because Island of the Lizard King is such a decent book, it deserves to be looked into a little bit more, eh?
Let's say, for instance, we don't follow the little marsh hopper. I stumbled through the marsh for a while and soon encountered a whole other monster - a slime-sucker. This creature was a large entity with long tripod-like legs, which keep its main body up out of the water itself, and large cupped hands to let it pull water into its mouth. The design for it is very unusual and quite interesting, and it is definitely the easier option. It's still a very difficult fight, though - when I say it's easier, I mean only barely.
The rest of the swamp is relatively easy. You are attacked by leeches, who serve only to diminish your stamina points further, and then you are free to enter the rocky hillside areas of the island. After avoiding a small avalanche, you stumble through the rocky hillside until you encounter a rock baring the warning 'turn back'. Yes, this definitely means we're getting closer to our destination. Warnings like that ALWAYS mean we're on the right track.
|Boots of +2 Crappiness|
We soon come to a river and, retrieving the raft that was mentioned in the snuffbox from its hiding place in the nearby shrubbery, we are able to steer our course up river. It's moments like this which make Island of the Lizard King so classic. Remember that this was only the seventh Fighting Fantasy book made, and just look at how much of an area we've covered in terms of geography. We're soon beset by a crocodile, and have to stab it to death.
It's at this point when the atmosphere really starts to ramp up. We see an escaped prisoner, desperate to flee from the lizard men's prisons. I take him onto the raft but, in his delirious state, he attacks me and I need to punch him into the river's flowing currents.
|I rescued them, so I count this|
as a heroic victory. Yay me.
Fighting my way through one of the lizard men, the prisoners are rallied to see me and quickly turn on their cruel taskmasters, ready to rise up and join me. They tear through several of the guards, and I ask that they lead me deep into the bowels of the tunnels so that I can rescue their fellow prisoners. Sadly as we run through the tunnels, I lose track of the group, and am unlucky enough to run head-first into another of the lizard man guards, who turns me into mincemeat. I die again, but having this time seen so much more of the island.
This is a really nice adventure. Loads of atmosphere and a very, very cool setting. I also really like the storyline, and I'd love to see how it pans out in the later parts of the adventure. This is one of the books that has been reprinted several times in later editions, and you can easily see why.
Up next weekend, we're going to have a look at another of the FF's ventures into sci-fi. But stick around for later this week, when we take another crack at this tough egg and see just how far into the Island of the Lizard King we can get! Stay tuned, folks.
(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's two bestselling collections of horror stories - "Return to 'Return to Oz'", "Cthulhu Doesn't Dance" and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie". His newest novel, book one of "Twilight of the Faerie", is available now)