The 100 Greatest Retro Videogames (book review)

I wasn’t quite sure how far back this new Carlton Book, ‘The 100 Greatest Retro Videogames’ or how the selection was made or for what games platforms until I got the book. Firstly, the source material is the Future Publishing magazine ‘Retro Gamer’ and all platforms are covered, assuming the games were put on them. The selection also contains various numbers of the same game when I think I would have chosen only one or do them as a collective. After all, how many of you have bought the next number in a favoured game? It would have made sense to show the evolution of the game with better graphics, gameplay and technology, although this was done at the other end of the book for some games. Their way does tend to cut down the choices somewhat.

This top 100 is also in the first 60 pages with a paragraph and small picture each. There are time-outs covering interviews with various game designers although whoever thought brick red with black text on it as readable needs a serious re-think. It’s rather interesting seeing how far we’ve come from basic pixel avatars to the complex characters we have today but that goes hand-in-hand with advances in computer memory and CPU technology. I was surprised to see how much interested was given to Super-Mario but surprised that ‘System Shock’ never got a mention. Oddly, neither ‘Space Invaders’ or ‘Defender’ also fall in that category as well. I know they started off in the arcades but their attraction got better when they were ported to home computers.

The main chunk of the book looks at 13 games in detail. These are Pacman, Tetris, Elite, Street Fighter II, Sonic The Hedgehog, Doom, Super Mario 64, Final Fantasy VII, Goldeye, Metal Gear Solid, The Legend Of Zelda, Halo: Combat Evolved and Resident Evil 4. Of these, I’ve played ‘Elite’ and ‘Doom’. The others being mostly Nintendo and Playstation so I never really paid much attention to them before. I only ever really toyed with Pacman and Tetris a few times although reading what their creators had to say about them, maybe they didn’t have enough of an addictive quality to them for me to hold much interest in them.

I suspect if you buy ‘Retro Gamer’, then this book will be an accumulation of this knowledge, although how much is new or purely taken from there is unknown. I might play computer games but it doesn’t mean I follow magazines about it. However, this book has widened my knowledge on the subject quite considerably and I always like to hear about how creators do their jobs. Even the creative teams were surprised at what came out of their collaborative efforts. If a potential follow-up book is ever considered, I would like to see something a bit more technical in terms of how these games were built in a bit more detail.

GF Willmetts

July 2019

(pub: Carlton Books, 2019. 200 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78739-308-0)

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