Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
With the eventual coming for the continuation of Bendy and the Ink Machine, let’s talk a little bit more about the franchise. As a sort of a build-up to the Dark Revival, two books were released in 2019 to hype people up. One was a guide book while the other was an actual novel. Are they any good? Let’s discuss!
Joey Drew Studios: Employee Handbook
Released at the tail end of July was the Employee Handbook. It served two purposes: 1. A strategy guide to the original game. 2 Provide tons of fanservice and bonus material for the series to fill in its details and build up its world.
As a guide book to the game, it was both useful and enlightening. While the game itself is fairly good at telling you what to do with its hint system, the book adds in plenty of extra details to clarify certain goals and how to handle things, with the bonus of screenshots from the game itself. The game lists where certain special items, like logs and bacon soup cans are located, and even explains the achievements and special challenges you can take part in. Given how cryptic things can get in the game, like secret boss fights or gaining special weapons, this is a very useful guide book.
The other half of the Employee Handbook is what elevates it over being a simple strategy guide. It acts both as a handbook to educate new employees on the operations of Joey Drew Studios while also being a scrapbook of various items and articles from the game’s universe. As a handbook, the material is pretty entertaining with its very cynical, dark bent. It reminds me a lot of the later Five Nights at Freddy’s games with the cheery narration describing a very awful company that is acting all smooth and friendly while screwing over its employees.
With the scrapbook side, it contains lots of extra lore bits and documents from within the Bendy universe. There are company letters, memos, newspaper articles, and even an extract from Joey Drew’s autobiography, The Illusion of Living (which is the next book coming). This material is the most fascinating, since it fills in all the minor details hinted at within the games. That situation with Susie Campbell getting replaced? There’s an official memo announcing it happening that reveals she found out secondhand, adding to how harsh the news must have hit her. The company’s utter failings? There are newspaper articles about its slow collapse over time.
This kind of makes you wish that all of this extra material was in the game itself.
If you like Bendy and the Ink Machine, this is a worthwhile purchase. There’s a lot of fun and interesting facts to get out of the book with its handbook and scrapbook side that can make any fan happy. As a strategy guide, it has its uses in trying to reach and get those secrets and achievements, but it mostly won’t be necessary in that regard due to how easy the game generally is. I would definitely recommend this, and of the two books, it’s probably the better of the pair.
Dreams Come to Life
Released in September 2019 and written by Adrienne Kress, Dreams Comes to Life, is a prequel set sometime before the fall of Joey Drew Studios. The focus is on the character of Buddy, a seventeen-year-old who had a chance encounter with the titular owner himself, who offered him a position at his studios. The young man, wanting to escape his shabby life and raise him and his mom out of the slums, jumped at the chance. However, even though all hell hadn’t broken loose yet, things are still very much amiss at the studios.
The best way to describe Dreams Comes to Life is that it is reminiscent of a Goosebumps novel in its feel and spirit. It’s a story with every chapter ending with a cliffhanger and it has this ominous, rather unnerving feeling throughout. It’s told from the viewpoint of the protagonist himself, recounting the tales that led straight up to this point. Though some of the twists and plot elements here feel like the next level above Goosebumps, touching on some heavy subject matter or acknowledging the troubling issues of the late ‘40s. It never dives too deep into these subjects mind you, but they are still there.
But beyond those things lie some dark, horrific elements that make for an uncomfortable, ugly tale at times. There is a good amount of depth and description in this tale that can make the images you imagine in your head downright unsettling, even if the POV is being told in a purposely amateurish style. What happens to some people is downright unsettling, and the climax and ending of the book goes to a shocking place, more so than the original game’s finale was able to achieve. It’s not a book for really young kids, but for those looking to move on up after Goosebumps.
As a whole, the story is a fairly entertaining ride from start to finish. It can drag at times and some of the supporting cast felt a bit weak, but with the way the story is told and presented, it never felt like much of an issue. Some of the characterization is very nice and relationship building between Buddy and other members of the cast are great, like him with his grandfather, Dot, or even Joey Drew himself. Drew especially is an interesting fellow. The book shows more sides to him that show how easy it could be to get sucked into his talks of dreams and hopes.
But with good, there is bad, but thankfully, not enough to seriously harm the book. I understand that this is written from Buddy’s perspective with him admitting he’s not a great writer and that he is adhering to the rules his friend had taught him in the past. The majority of the time, this isn’t an issue with the style and storytelling. However, some parts do feel rather dragged out, some emotional beats fall flat due to a lack of description, and there were a few typos in the book.
Also, there are some plot holes with the lore of the game that will raise plenty of eyebrows for the big fans, like Bendyland’s date of being announced and some characters’ behaviors (admittedly, this is told from the perspective of a person losing themselves, so some parts can be handwaved). None of this kills the book by any means, but it did strike it down just a bit.
Looking at this from many different angles, this is a book worth looking into. For fans of the series this is a good, breezy novel that’s enjoyable to read and dive into. For parents looking to get their kids into reading more, this may be worth their time knowing that this is a bit heavier than usual. For non-Bendy fans who are a bit curious, this is not a bad book to try. No prior knowledge of the game is needed to understand what is going on. At best, it just helps add some extra context or visuals for the book.
For Bendy’s first outing in the book scene, these were a good start. Both books have their flaws but are generally a great time for the fans overall. Even for non-fans with the regular novel, I could still easily recommend this.
Here’s hoping the future looks bright for the series with the next game and the next book, The Illusion of Living, coming hopefully in the not too distant future.
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