By Dave B.
When I was a kid, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books. Sure, I cheated at them all the time, but who didn’t? That was part of the fun. I even tried a zombie CYOA book on Kindle once. That was…an interesting experience. So when I heard that Netflix had partnered with DreamWorks on a CYOA program, I definitely had to check it out. Despite decent animation and extremely basic controls, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed by Netflix’s offering.
Puss In Book: Trapped In An Epic Tale is advertised as a CYOA story, but that isn’t exactly true. Instead, it offers viewers various choices that inevitably lead to the same ending. The difference between this and a true CYOA is important: In Puss In Book it’s basically impossible to “fail”. There are only two possible endings and one of them strongly encourages you to go back to the only other possible ending, which is the “correct” one. In other words, it doesn’t really matter how many potential decision paths there are because in Puss In Book, there are no stakes as success is inevitable.
In a sense, that’s fine as this show is clearly geared towards young children. The problem is that children quickly become bored with almost anything and once they realize that there is really only one ending, the incentive to continue watching is basically gone. A path in Puss in Book can take from between 18 and 40 minutes. That’s not too long to hold a short attention span, but with limited replayability due to the extremely limited number of endings, it’s hard for me to see a kid watching this more than three or four times (and adults being bored out of their minds after a couple viewings). That’s a real shame because the technology holds a lot of potential.
I have no doubt that true CYOA will eventually be the future of animated and computer-generated entertainment, especially anime. But for it to be successful, a company will need to make the financial commitment to making multiple, equally valid endings, some of which end in failure. The cost of doing this will be prohibitive for live-action media, but the rewards for the first animation studio to successfully adopt this method of storytelling could be huge. Puss In Book was good as a proof-of-concept, but it left me wanting a more fully developed product. I recommend it for a couple of runs just to see what it's like, but not for more than that.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.