This book is 8 1/2" x 11 1/4" hardback format. Despite being 1/4" thick, it actually only contains fourteen (14) pages - and that's only of you include the inside front and back covers, which are actually part of the story.
I presume that there exist other "Crystal Decoder" books, but this is the first one that I've ever seen. The book includes a transparent grill (attached to the book by a string) which, when hold over some apparently "scrambled blobs" on the page, actually renders them legible.
This is because the "blobs" are two words merged together. The grill covers alternate bits of the words, allowing you to move the grill and read each of the two words separately. Sound complicated? You kind of have to see it to get the idea, then it's obvious.
Anyhow, on with the story. A phone call from Robbie sends Peter to an abandoned New York movie studio. They make movies in New York? And why would Robbie send an young photographer alone into danger? I'm not sure what reason Robbie gave, but when Peter gets there, there's a video from Mysterio telling Peter to contact Spider-Man and tell him to go and rescue JJJ, who Mysterio is keeping prisoner.
Well, presumably the phone call was faked by Mysterio. But let's not get caught up in the details. According to the story, little does Mysterio that Peter is actually Spider-Man. And since Peter is a "science whiz", he has created a "Crystal Decoder" which gives him a valuable advantage over the villain.
Hmm... Mysterio wants Spider-Man to follow the clues. But he didn't know that Spider-Man could actually read the clues? How does THAT make any sense? We're still on the first double-page spread here, and already we've got some serious plot holes here. It doesn't bode well. But... using the crystal decoder (as you should now do) you can find that three of the books give the words "VALLEY" "OF KINDS" "GO TO" "MUST" "NOW YOU".
Outside, Spider-Man finds himself "at the foot of a small tower". It's one of Mysterio's tricks. Of course, it's not clear why Spider-Man couldn't have just gone outside anyhow, without reading the clue on the books. Surely the illusion doesn't know if Spidey read the clue or not. Oh well, Spider-Man (that's you) now has to find a key in a sort of "Look & Find" exercise. Also navigate two mazes (with pyramid pictures), and read a few more clues with the crystal decoder.
Oh, Spidey calls Mysterio "Fish Face". That should surely be "Fishbowl Head", since Mysterio doesn't actually have a visible face. Never mind. Let's leap to the third double-spread, which is New York. Look at the clock faces and figure out what order they go in. Can you think of anything duller than that? I can't. Excuse me while I stifle a *YAWN*. But Spider-Man knows that "Mysterio's game would not be over until Jameson was free." So, Mysterio's plan is to free Jameson? What does Mysterio have to do with Jameson anyhow? He's one of the few villains who doesn't have any connection with JJJ!
Ah well. Find another key, and make your way to Brushwood Gulch. Play a "spot the differences" game, and read some more hidden words. Then back to the studio for one more "identify the correctly colored Mysterio" game. Oh, I'm not going to describe the rest of the games. There's a couple more spreads to go here, and I've already lost interest with the whole concept of this book.
The last double-page features a shot of the Daily Bugle with a "J.J.J. Found" headline, plus the answers to the puzzles. So really there's only 12 pages of content. The original 1996 sticker price was US$8.98. So, is that good value?
Well, in terms of puzzles, you're looking at less than a dozen puzzles for that price. That's not a lot of value. The story is pretty stupid, and there certainly isn't anything to laugh about in the text. The art and coloring is adequate, but not inspiring.
The whole book hangs on the "Crystal Decoder" gimmick. However, the decoder is really not very well used by the puzzles. Nearly all of the decoder text is purely superficial, e.g. "We've hidden the names of 10 current and past movie stars, can you find them all?" It doesn't really relate to the "rescue J.J.J." plot at all.
The only real interaction between the decoder and the storyline is the fact that at the bottom right corner of each double-page spread is the "encoded" name of the location on the next page. Hardly gripping stuff, I'm afraid.
The puzzles are few, and not very good. The whole book really rests on the crystal decoder gimmick, and that really isn't much to base a book on. The whole thing really falls rather flat. Sure, it's a twenty-year old collectible, and it's rather obscure. Sure it has a gadget, and I'm pleased to have found a nice complete copy for my collection. But that still doesn't allow me to give this book more than a disappointing two webs.