Monday, November 3, 2014

The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 --- Review

Many reviews of my book have appeared online, but this is one of my favorites, posted by Michael on The Dinglehopper:

There have been many top 100 books before, but rarely one like this. Here are the best of the early video games, shown in over 400 color photos and described in incredible detail in the entertaining and informative text. Each game’s entry features production history, critical commentary, quotes from industry professionals, gameplay details, comparisons to other games, and more. This book celebrates the very best of the interactive entertainment industry’s games from this highly crucial, fondly remembered decade. This pivotal period was marked by the introduction of the indispensable Atari 2600, Odyssey2, and Intellivision, the unleashing of the underrated Vectrex, the mind-blowing debut of the next-gen ColecoVision and Atari 5200, plus the rebirth of the industry through Nintendo’s legendary juggernaut, the NES. Whether you’re young or old, new to the hobby or a hardcore collector, this book will introduce you to or remind you of some of the greatest, most historically important games ever made.

This is a masterwork of scholarship in a field we’re only beginning to recognize the need for. While on the surface it looks like many other X best Y’s and while the average gamer might have her own list of ten or even twenty, Brett Weiss has thrown down a gauntlet with the kind of intertextual support typically unseen outside of Oxford University Press or more recent Tolkien ephemera.

These probably actually are the one hundred greatest console games of the period.  Not your favorites, not the most popular, but objectively. The burden of proof is now on everyone else who might disagree.  They’ll need ten citations and a cross system comparison in addition to personal testimonials just to begin that debate, though.

I’m sure I excluded some cartridges that many gamers – including you, constant reader – hold in particularly high regard, and for that I don’t apologize.

Rather, I hope my perceived oversight makes your blood boil (or at least simmer), forcing you to fire up the respective classic console, plug in that old favorite that I neglected to include, and extol the virtues of that game to anyone who will listen online or in person.

It’s bold, but aside from forgetting a title you might be especially nostalgic about, you needn’t worry. No matter what you loved, more than one of your favorites will be in here.
The years covered include the Second Generation, The Great Video Game Crash, and the beginning of the Third Generation. The selection is omnivorous, with games for the Arcadia 2001, Astrocade, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, ColecoVision, Intellivision, NES, Odyssey2, Sega Master System, and Vectrex. If any of that isn’t familiar, it will be by the time you finish the book.

Each entry includes original box art, publication data, and one or more of the following: screenshots, cartridge photos, instruction manual art, box back, and ad copy.  In addition to descriptions of the games, entries are heavily sourced with reviews from contemporary publications and current enthusiasts.  None of this is just Brett Weiss’s opinion. You’ll also learn about how to play the games, or variants, on modern systems. And the entries end with an interesting fact about the game and a one sentence “WHY IT MADE THE LIST.”

The selections are system specific.  If a game was demonstrably better on the Intellevision than the Atari version, Weiss explains why.

Some of the games are ubiquitous. Combat, sold with the Atari 2600 (VCS) made the list. Others are so obscure only serious retro gamers have even heard of them. “Most Gamers who have actually played Bounty Bob Strikes Back love it.”

Some stand out for other reasons. Centipede was the first shooter to appeal to women and a recognized and remembered classic even on the 2600, which is noted here but justly not included in the praise for the 5200, ColecoVision, and 7800 ports.

The original was programmed by Dona Bailey in 1980.  Check out what happened and note how little has changed in more than three decades.

“When asked if things changed once she programmed Centipede, Bailey said, “yes,” but not necessarily for the better. “There was a lot of surly attention after that…people just started, you know…the typical kind of thing people would say was, either it was a fluke or I didn’t really do it, somebody else did it.”

Since the book is well researched and clearly referenced, I was able to find the original interview. Bailey’s experience was both disappointing and unsurprising.

Yes, but I’m not sure it was for the better! There was a lot of surly attention after that. It’s not always popular to do something [like] that — the first thing that happened, I was not ready for at all, and I still haven’t figured out how to deal with this part — people just started, y’know… the typical kind of thing that people would say was, either it was a fluke or I didn’t really do it, somebody else did it. I’m a very peaceful person, and I felt sick of fighting, so I really just disappeared, and I haven’t had contact with the industry for at least twenty years.

Sounds disturbingly familiar. The Gamergate movement is apparently upholding a tradition in its fourth decade when it attacks game developers like Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu.

A few entries made me want to expand my collection. Shark! Shark! for the Intellivision is all about fish who eat fish.  Brett Weiss loves it because it was an early example of power leveling your avatar and killing sharks. It’s another game programmed by a woman, this time Ji-Wen Tsao. Its initial print run was 5600 copies versus supported titles that released 800,000.

Some of them are true loves, possibly in despite the consensus rather than because.  Rambo: First Blood Part II for the Sega Master System is lovingly described even as its criticisms are fairly presented. Weiss wants to spread the word so much he includes the cheat codes for the game, without which it’s unbeatable.

My favorite console game of the era, Warlords [note by Brett Weiss—the book lists games alphabetically, not in order of greatness], finally appeared at number 96 [author's note, the book lists games in alphabetical, not in order of greatness], with “some of the best party-style, four-player gaming ever created, regardless of the era”.  Something of a hybrid between Pong and Breakout, it was the first game whose coin-op version derived from the console game rather than vice versa. And it was programmed by a woman, Carla Meninsky. Her first game,Dodge’Em, also appears in the book.

With a foreword from Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day, an appendix of one hundred honorable mentions with brief descriptions, a bibliography (including websites), and a title based index, this book is indispensable for collectors, enthusiasts, and researchers.

Recommended for Ernest Cline, retro gamers, and would-be Kings of Kong.

Order The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 HERE.

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