‘Black Mirror Bandersnatch’ Review: Netflix Corrupts the CYOA Format

You can't binge watch a choose-your-own-adventure story. Or can you?

Netflix and Black Mirror have totally missed the appeal of choose-your-own-adventure storytelling in the new episode film interactive experience whatever you want to call it: Bandersnatch. Maybe it’s my nostalgia showing (I’ve owned more Give Yourself Goosebumps books than I’d like to admit), but despite Netflix’s best efforts, binging a choose-your-own-adventure story just doesn’t work.

Without spoiling anything too important, Bandersnatch tells the story of a young video game programmer in the 1980s who’s determined to create a choose-your-own-adventure game based on a fictional book of the same name (Bandersnatch). Of course, this is all happening within a choose-your-own-adventure Netflix experience, leading to some meta-as-hell discussions of the nature of reality and free will. Your goal, however, is to complete that video game, and almost every ending cuts to an ‘80s TV show where a young critic rates your final product on a scale of one to five stars. (You can get a perfect score, but you may live to regret it.)

Reviewed simply as another episode of Black Mirror, Bandersnatch is somewhere in the middle of the pack, not the worst but nowhere near as good as the show’s best entries. But as a choose-your-own-adventure experience, Bandersnatch feels like a failure.

Here’s the problem: By design, a choose-your-own-adventure story can be extremely short. You might make the wrong decision early on and die and that’s it. You can always start over or flip back to the previous page and try again, but the book you were reading just gave you a natural stopping point. Netflix, however, has no interest in letting you get away so easily.

As soon as you reach one ending the streaming service casually guides you towards a reboot. Press the big button front and center to dive right back in at the last crucial decision (or you could press the small button in the top right corner to actually end the game and roll the credits). Eventually, after roughly 90 minutes, Bandersnatch will officially end.

So by the end of one Bandersnatch playthrough you’ll probably have already seen 70-90 percent of the full experience and most, if not all, of the five main endings. You’ve essentially binged through what was supposed to replace an entire season of Black Mirror experiences in an hour-and-a-half. As a result, I don’t see much replay value in what should be the most rewatchable Netflix release of all time. For most people, one playthrough will probably be more than enough.

Bandersnatch is streaming now on Netflix.

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