Gamertell Review: 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die

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1001 Video Games You Must Play before You Die book cover

Product: 1 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die
Price: $36.95 (US)
Release Date: November 2010
Author/Editor: Tony Mott (General Editor) with various writers
Publisher: Universe Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-7893-2090-2
Rating: One thumb up, one thumb sideways; 86/100; B; * * * 1/2 out of five.
Pros: A lot of great games get a bit of literary glory, some decent writing for such small space for each game and a grand amount of nostalgic appeal.
Cons: Several questionable formatting decisions, a few underwhelming descriptions and some listings lack photos. Too many franchise games listed when only a few key games in the series would suffice.
Overall: It’s an extremely enjoyable coffee table book and a wonderful holiday gift for any gamer. At the very least it will stimulate several hours of reading and intense online debates between older gamers.

I have in my hands the thickest book (albeit a galley version) I have ever seen about video games. This weighty behemoth promises, as you can gather from the title, a big and pretty list of 1001 games that everyone needs to play.

This is a book that will take at least an hour just to thumb through. For many, it’s worth it simply for the nostalgic trip. For others it may be an overwhelming collection of every game name you can possibly recall.

Judging the Book by Its Cover

If you can think of the name of a US-released game you’ve played since 1972, there’s a dern good chance it is in this hard-cover book. 1001 Video Games offers exactly that on more than 900 pages with one, two or three games featured per page.

1001 Video Games You Must Play before You Die Dragons Lair pageEach entry is three of four fat paragraphs, which is about as much as you can read (or write) on any one game considering there are literally a thousand (and one) to read. Each entry also offers some key information, including the original release year, platform(s), developer and genre.

Most of the games get a screen shot with the game, which is rather nice especially if you forgot exactly how great (or bad) the graphics were. A few pages are image free which may be due to legal rights and some screen shots (eg. ChibiRobo) are so muddy thay you can hardly get a feeling for the game. I might have suggested a thumbnail (or mugshot style image) of the game’s original box art, but that would likely involve more expense and legal rights.

The book includes a two-page gushy introduction by Peter Molyneux and a four-page intro by the book’s general editor, Tony Mott. In the intro Mott justifies the general idea of the book (let’s face it, it fits the publisher’s 1001-titled series of books) and even gently jibes a bit about the massive undertaking.

Under the Cover

There is no doubt that pretty much any game you can think of as being one of your favorites is in here. Right away you get sucked into the terse descriptions of the oldest games, exuding instant nostalgia. You will easily spend an hour thumbing through the first time you pick up the book as there is so much to take in and page after page is filled with gaming gems.

Of course, with the intended brevity, you cannot delve too deep into each game. Most are written rather well with dense descriptions but a few cannot quite capture the flavor of the game, let along that game’s influence (which is the promised focus of each description). With so many listings, you periodically get the sense that the writer was at the end of a writing marathon or perhaps at the tail end of a deadline.

From here on, this critique might seem a bit nitpicky (hand an Editor a book and that is what will naturally happen). Just to be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. ut simply, I would have enjoyed it even more is the following things were somehow remedied.

Each game is listed according to the release year meaning the release dates are not very specific. Likewise, the Platform listings are often a meaningless catch-all. When a game has been released on more than two platforms, the editor (or publisher) decided to use the single descriptor “Various” instead of eating up a couple extra lines of text, which is about as helpful as “All major platforms.”

1001 Video Games You Must Play before You Die Command and Conquer info box detailThe “Various” implies the reader knows all the systems avaialble at the time. Certainly, finding every iteration of a game from the date it was released on would be quite a task (Pong, for example, has been on pretty much every system in some form) but, if you stick to the original release ROM and maybe include including original-spirited ports, you can can certainly come up with a more useful list.

There are also a lot of sequels included in the book. Granted, several do deserve a spot (most of the Super Mario games and a few of the Grand Theft Auto games are noteworthy) but, when they appear on consecutive pages, you can bet there are probably too many included and the spot could have been used for another game.

Indies get a little love here but only when the game hit more mainstream levels. Likewise, mobile games (cell phones, iPhone and iPod Touch) get a few mentions but there are simply too many to whittle down to the essential few. I might have even left those out and left that to a second book (1001 Mobile Games…). The book also cuts off at about 2010 yet still lets a few games through (Max and the Magic Marker and VVVVV begin that decade!?). I think they could have safely cut it at a solid 2009 stop and done well enough.

Mac gamers will be glad to notice a few games with the Mac Platform listed, even a few Mac-only games (esp. the earliest decades). Otherwise, you’ll have to guess whether or not Mac is implied in the vague “Various” descriptor.

Finally, the author for each game description is listed by their initials at the end of the entry, which is fine, but when you go back to check who wrote each entry you’ll quickly notice that Edge is the most frequent publication under each writer’s credits. So the “Selected and written by Leading International Critics” tagline on the cover of book should immediately be taken with a grain of salt. Surely they could have widened the authorship scope.

Can’t. Stop. Reading.

Do not let my nitpicking dissuade you from buying this book. This was certainly a massive undertaking and proves to be an incredibly magnetic book for your thumbs. It’s impossible to see this book and not want to quick-flip through pages. Even if you stop and read only a few entries, you’ll be couched for at least an hour without even noticing.

Some of the selections are a bit weird (why Rez HD and not the original Rez?) and any well-played gamer will certainly notice a game or two missing (the classic Popeye game is not even mentioned) but, all-in-all, it’s a fun book to thumb through and certainly fulfills its purpose.

It’s a great coffee table book and a wonderful holiday gift for any gamer. And if you need to press any of those old floppies flat again, this 900+-page will offer plenty of weight.

Site [Rizzoli USA] Product Page [1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die]

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  • Jim

    I just read this book cover to cover with initial excitement, but growing dissatisfaction. No entries for classic greats like Zaxxon, Turbo, Pole Position, Pitfall or any Intellivision or Vectrex games. Very SLOPPY work by people who should know better!