Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: 'To Be Or Not To Be' by Ryan North

It's great when people use there talents to create wholly original projects (if such a things actually exists) but there's always a time and a place for someone to put their own touches on someone else's creation.  There's always a chance it'll come off as boring or derivative at best and unnecessary at worst, but with the right creator a new twist or a complete reimagining can breathe fresh life into a work.  And what, you might ask, could use fresh life more than a 400 year old work like Hamlet?  I know, it's been done on every stage in screen from here to eternity, but what if someone found a way to do something different with it?  Ryan North did with To Be Or Not To Be, where you choose how the story plays out with Hamlet, Ophelia, and Ghost King Hamlet in a "chooseable-path adventure".  After a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, To Be Or Not To Be is out, and it's every bit as fun as promised.

As a bit of a caveat, I haven't finished every ending of the book yet.  Really, though, it's not my fault!  At nearly 800 pages, the number of different paths available through the book is a number far above my math skills.  Each one, though, is clever and hilarious.  The humor found in North's Dinosaur Comics really shines through; elements of the original play are interwoven with anachronisms, references, and irreverence that will make you want to replay the book over and over again (or take a peak at branching paths, if you're a cheater like that).  Throughout you'll be treated to some (even more) unconventional aspects, like chess games, recipes, and lists of ways to exact revenge (naturally).  And if you dig the idea of making fun of Shakespeare but still aren't into the whole "reading" thing, full-page illustrations from some of the best artists in webcomics and more add to the story and humor in ways you've never seen in pre-colonial English plays.

It's hard to say a lot about To Be Or Not To Be, because a) it's so dense and there's so much to go through, and b) at the same time I don't want to spoil anything about it.  What you need to know: it's supremely smart, achingly funny, and very, very creative.  If you get bored with this adventure, it says more about you than it does the book.  The best thing you can do is pick up a copy and read it.  And then read it again and again and again.

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