Book Review: 101 Video Games to Play Before You Grow Up

A charming book for gamers of all ages!

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 12/01/2017 07:30 Comment on this     ShareThis

When I was a kid, books about video games were called “strategy guides.” While those certainly still exist in some capacity, today, gamers have far more options to choose from. Unfortunately, those books tend to skew towards older players like myself, rather than younger fans. Kids might get a small kick out of art books or hardcover collections of old video game boxes but, chances are, they aren’t the target audience for that type of publication. Thankfully, 101 Video Games to Play Before You Grow Up is probably the kid-friendliest video game-centric book I’ve ever seen, from its price point, right down to the book’s mission statement.

Right off the bat, let’s establish one major point: 101 Video Games to Play Before You Grow Up is a bit of a misleading title; this is not a breakdown of 101 individual releases in order based on quality. Instead, 101 Game Franchises to Play Before You Grow Up might have been a more accurate title. Games are grouped together by their franchise, so instead of recommending Super Mario Bros., the author has a single entry talking about the series and telling kids why they might be interested. There’s also a box for kids to check off whether or not they’ve played that series, what systems the games can be found on, recommended titles and some trivia thrown in for good measure. The result is a list that’s really accessible; I could certainly see younger readers making an earnest effort to check off each entry after they play them.

As far as the entries themselves go, it’s hard to argue with the majority of the book’s inclusions. Author Ben Bertoli has compiled quite the all-ages friendly list: you won’t find Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto, here. Despite these exclusions, the book manages to compile a pretty strong list spanning the history of gaming. Classics like Pac-Man and Galaga are represented, but so are indie gems like Cave Story, Rocket League and OlliOlli. Even cult-classics like Elite Best Agents made it on the list!

One of the book’s more notable highlights is the art. Artist Spencer Wilson provided completely new art for every entry in 101 Video Games to Play Before You Get Old, and the results are really pleasant to look at. Wilson’s artistic style gives each of these disparate franchises a uniform style that really pops off of each page. The decision to go with completely new art, by a single artist, works very well, tying the package together in a very distinctive way.

If there’s one complaint I have, it’s the fact that, while the list has been exhaustively researched and selected, the placement seems a bit haphazard. The list is separated into six genres. However, at this point, the list starts to get a bit confusing. Does Pokémon deserve to be at number 68 when Yo-Kai Watch is at number 65? What about Earthbound at number 59 and Final Fantasy at 60? Are these rankings intended to reflect accessibility, or quality? The book doesn’t seem to be actually ranking these franchises, so a better move might have been to either alphabetize the entire list, or make the ranking a bit clearer. It’s a minor quibble, but it could certainly cause confusion for the book’s target audience.

While older players will likely plan to stick with Dark Horse’s art books, kids and parents will want to check out 101 Video Games to Play Before You Get Old. It reminds me of the kind of book I would have grabbed immediately at a school book fair as a kid and not let go of until it was ratty and tattered. This is an excellent roadmap for younger fans, created by two people that clearly have a strong affinity for the video game industry. There’s simply not a better all-ages video game book in stands, and certainly not at the $12.95 price point.

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