Shakespeare is often butchered, and it makes me furious.
The Puritans banned his performances, the Victorians put on yawn-inducingly static and dull productions, and today Shakespeare's work is taught poorly in our schools, seen as a book to read when it's clearly a script to perform.
Conversely Ryan North's To Be Or Not To Be makes me happy, and I'd go so far as saying it would make The Bard happy too.
Getting over the Millais
It takes the core story of Hamlet, changes it to a second person perspective, adds a sharp-witted narrator, modernises the language while keeping important monologues intact, and most importantly it's incredibly funny.
"Literally slapped my thigh" funny. "Spat water all over my iPad" funny. "Woke my girlfriend in the middle of the night" funny. Riotously, unrelentingly, brilliantly funny.
Hamlet's father is referred to as "Ghost Dad", Hamlet himself is described as "an emo teen in his early 30s", and the sheer amount of linguistic gymnastics here is invigorating to anyone who enjoys language.
Then there's the pirate scene, which is the most drawn out but well-deserved literature gag I've read in a long time, and the whip-smart version of the play within a play is great as well.
The funeral scene is a hoot, as is the advice Ophelia constantly gets from the loved ones around her in a "my goodness, how times have (mostly) changed" kind of way.
Slings and arrows
It's unbelievably accessible too. Shakespeare made plays like Hamlet for the public - he was basically writing the EastEnders of his day - and though stuffy scholars may want you to think Hamlet is all nihilistic musings on the meaninglessness of life, our Will wasn't above a knob gag or two, and that's reflected in this treatment.
The structure of the game itself doesn't do a lot to move the gamebook as a video game genre forward, as you're still just reading, making a choice, and then reading some more.
And though the game's punctuated by wonderful illustrations from noted artists such as Mike Krahulik (Penny Arcade), Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal), and Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant), the presentation is, for the most part, clean but basic.
Yet when the writing's this good, and the treatment of the source text this passionate, you can forgive these criticisms.
Ryan North's To Be Or Not To Be is a vivid, life-affirming take on Hamlet, and if you've any appreciation for the works of William Shakespeare, or prose in general, you'll adore it.