Retro Game Fans Should Check Out The NES Encyclopedia
It’s not often that we check out books here at GotGame, but this opportunity seemed too good to pass up. The Nintendo Entertainment System, or as it’s commonly known, the NES, is an iconic console in the gaming industry. The rectangular gray box was home to many hits, many of those franchises still being around today. For many, it was the first introduction to video games in general. It was definitely mine, as the NES holds a special place in my heart as the system that was not only my first experience with games, but created my love for games in general. The NES Encyclopedia by Chris Scullion is a complete list of games for the system with hundreds of facts. For the retro gamer, it’s a great trip down memory lane. For newer gamers, it’s an informative history lesson.
Before we get to the content of the book, we’ll first talk about the author, Chris Scullion. While I’ve never met Chris, he and I share a lot of opinions for video games. We both have similar beginnings in this industry and are both now passionately writing about games. Working with Future Publishing, he’s written for magazines like the Official Nintendo Magazine, Computer & Video Games, and more. You may have even seen his name on articles for fellow sites like Polygon, Nintendo Life, and Vice. Unfortunately, due to the closure of the CVG website in 2015, Chris lost his primary job and became a freelancer. He now owns a website, Tired Old Hack, where he continues to write about games in his free time. If you happen to like what he writes there, you may enjoy his book.
As we get to The NES Encyclopedia, it covers more than just NES games. It’s a good read that sheds some light on an industry that continues to grow daily. A lot of gamers out there don’t know that it was really Nintendo that saved gaming. Back in the early 80s, Atari was king, and things were going well. Then the quality standards of games started to decline, as games like E.T. hit the market. E.T. was a notable release, but wasn’t the only reason that consumers were losing faith. Video games were starting to lose a ton of popularity, causing a video game crash in America. Nintendo, thinking outside the box, introduced the NES as an “entertainment center”, even releasing a toy robot (R.O.B., seen most recently in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate) to get the attention of kids.
While the history of Nintendo entering the games industry is all well and good, that isn’t the bulk of this book. This encyclopedia covers 714 licensed titles, as well as 162 unlicensed games. Why is there an unlicensed games section? Well Nintendo had some strict requirements for creating a game on their system. Quality was one of the factors, as Nintendo didn’t want companies to rush multiple games out on the console. Some companies, like Konami, created other branches like Ultra Games and Palcom, just to get around these rules. Other companies, like Atari, used other methods like creating unlicensed games. Of course, the majority of these titles came from companies with less than stellar reputations. Either way, this book logs them all, with a few exceptions.
When I was younger, I didn’t have that many video games. I started with the game that came with my NES, Super Mario Bros. 3. I have tons of fond memories of playing that game in my youth, and it gets a full page treatment in The NES Encyclopedia. Most of the games get a quarter of a page of information, consisting of one or two paragraphs. Many of the more notable ones will get half a page, and a few of the most iconic titles get a full page. On top of this, each game has a little “fact bubble” to give a little bit of trivia. Sometimes it relates to the game, but sometimes it goes a bit further and references modern use of the property. A few of these facts are common knowledge, while others are pretty obscure, making them all the more interesting.
The list of games is in alphabetical order and gives a good summary of each game. As someone that had several of these games, of course I searched the pages for them first. It was nice to relive some nostalgia moments. Games like Batman Returns, Battletoads & Double Dragon, and Tiny Toon Adventures 2: Trouble in Wackyland were a part of my childhood. Even the McDonald’s game M.C. Kids was there, though it didn’t reference the strange suicide select button. Even so, the book explains it in the introduction that this is a book about all these games. Even after reading about many of the games in my collection, I couldn’t help but read about others. Some I played when I was younger, and others were games I had only heard of.
It was honestly really interesting to discover games simply by association. While I had a Tiny Toon Adventures game, I had no idea about Tiny Toon Adventures Cartoon Workshop. I also never knew about the pause trick in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. It probably wouldn’t have changed the difficulty much, but I likely would’ve progressed further. Even The Legend of Zelda has a fact that we’ve discussed here before. Overall, The NES Encyclopedia is full of history that clearly took a lot of research. It helps that it’s written in an accessible way for anyone to understand.
While it’s hard to knock the book for anything specific, there are still a few things to address. During my read of the book, I did notice a few typos here and there. Nothing that kills the overall quality of the book, but something I noticed as an editor myself. Aside from the typos, there really isn’t anything negative to note. Maybe a few more screenshots could have been added, as every game is limited to a single picture from the game. The full page coverage will add box art, which is a plus at least. Even then, some games where the box art is notable (and even referenced in the writing), like Mega Man, don’t have it pictured. It’s a minor thing to complain about and can easily be remedied with a Google search.
At the end of the day, The NES Encyclopedia is a great way to learn about the roots of gaming. Even if video games existed before the NES, it started a revolution in the industry. Games like Metroid, Castlevania, Punch-Out!! and more are just some of the many examples. It can even be an eye-opener for people to read about various stories relating to publishers at the time. Whether you get the paperback version, the hard cover, or even the digital Kindle version, it’s a great book. If you’re a retro game lover, or even if you own the NES Classic Edition or subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online, there’s something here for you.