There are a lot of game / story hybrids popping up on digital marketplaces these days, and that's not at all objectionable.
Necklace of Skulls from Cubus Games is another hybrid. This mystical Mayan adventure seeks to nestle itself somewhere between the word-heavy Choice of Games books and the dice-driven Fighting Fantasy titles.
It's definitely an enjoyable and intriguing read - the wonderful illustrations help (we never outgrow picture books) - though getting to the end of the journey alive depends more on luck than anything.
Brother in trouble
You play though Necklace of Skulls as a member of Mayan nobility. Your twin brother has gone missing, and his disappearance is seemingly related to terrifying reports of the undead attacking villagers.
The wizard known as Necklace of Skulls is intent on terrorizing the living, and you need to do something about it.
The class you choose has an impact on how you play. If you decide to be a wayfarer, you can carry more items. If you choose to be a huntress, your experience with wilderness survival will surely come in handy when you find yourself up against hostile florae and faunae.
As you "travel" through Necklace of Skulls, you can expect to come up against problematic terrain and monsters. The items you gather and carry with you can come in extremely handy, though limited pack space means you need to think hard about what accompanies you.
Facing off against hazards without the proper item in-hand usually means sustaining damage, which drains your hit points.
Battles are another drain on your vitality. Each fight works like a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. A store of stamina allows you to attack.
Choosing to rest restores stamina but leaves you open to enemy attack. Defending yourself lessens damage from the enemy, and restores a bit of stamina.
There's no dice involved in Necklace of Skulls' battle system, but going into a fight feels like a toss of the bones regardless. With no way to heal yourself during battle (restorative items can only be used during the journey), enemies with a lot of hit points will whittle you down in no time unless you get lucky.
Thankfully, dying sends you back to the last checkpoint, so you can attempt a different story path and hopefully suffer less damage before being forced to fight.
This works well in most chapters, but the final chapter is quite long, and working through it over and over to have another shot at the final battle is pretty tedious.
Also, the items you grab occasionally don't register in your inventory. Though I was told I possessed the skull of my brother, Evening Star, I didn't have the option to select it during the relevant story point.
A single session of Necklace of Skulls doesn't last beyond an hour or two (depending on how quickly you read, and how often you're sent back to checkpoints), but that's okay.
What we have here is a bit more like the bite-sized adventures you'd find in a Choose Your Own Adventure book - and given the recent passing of series founder RA Montgomery, now's not a bad time to reminisce.
There are some frustrating mechanics to deal with, but overall Necklace of Skulls is a fine package.