Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Book Review: A Selective History of 'Bad' Video Games

Did you grow up playing video games when you had to wait online to get them? Do you remember the bad, weird, or otherwise underrated video games of your youth? Did you like a few of them more than your friends did? A Selective History of ‘Bad’ Video Games will walk you down memory lane and perform unholy excavations of games you remember, games you’ve forgotten, and games you never knew you wanted to read about during your lunch break. From a seemingly nude Atari 2600 karate referee to a basketball star doing martial arts to a tiger that speaks broken English and walks through walls, the book will try to uncover what the developers were thinking — and occasionally succeed.

While there’s been some recent coverage of the most famously “bad” video game — E.T. — this book starts there and continues on to 40 other curiously (or unsurprisingly) unsuccessful video games during the first few decades of the industry’s lifespan. Written by a modern day video game developer, the book explores why these games failed, whether or not they truly deserved it, and what could have made them better. The covered games include screen shots that capture awkward moments, irreverent captions, and pages of tongue-in-cheek psychoanalysis.

This trip down video-game memory by Michael Greenhut will be released on February 28, 2023. Pen and Sword provided an early galley for review.

As someone whose first home game system was the Atari 2600 and first computer was a Commodore-64, this book was like a reunion with some old forgotten acquaintances. Quite a few of the games discussed in this volume come from those early days of gaming - when we had to use our imaginations to truly appreciate the primitive graphics on the screens.

I remember saving a lot of money to purchase Pac-Man 2600 and, as Greenhut outlines, being mildly disappointed by the graphics. It was not exactly like the beloved arcade game that was hitting the world with fever at the time. Luckily the later Ms. Pac-Man for the same console helped scratch that particular itch.

A number of the games listed here were a bit unfamiliar to me; I was not an NES/SNES player and leaned more towards the Sega Genesis platform. Still, it was interesting to read about the parameters and limitations game designers had to work in, especially when porting some arcade classics to the home platforms. Dragon's Lair and Space Ace definitely suffered from that, sadly.

This book is a quick read (just over 200 pages with a lot of screen-shot images in full color to support the text); however, it will definitely give old-school gamers a warm feeling of nostalgia.

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