With the history of gaming now representing a rich tapestry, there is demand for reference guides that can provide a simple analysis of the quality of a game in a very short paragraph – similar to Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, which covers motion pictures. There are several writers that have either published or are continuing to work on compilations of capsule reviews for video games, and we will evaluate each of these books in the coming months.
The Video Games Guide (ISBN: 9780752226255) was one of the first of these guides to be released, hitting shelves back in 2006. The author, Matt Fox is a passionate gaming fan who spent six years compiling the book while working as a science teacher. The book covers over forty years of releases, starting with Spacewar and moving through to the early PlayStation 3 lineup. Sounds quite promising, no?
With forty years of gaming history to cover, there are an absolute ton of titles that are given the once over. Each game gets an evaluation spanning a couple of paragraphs, accompanied by a star rating (out of five). The book is by no means exhaustive; where other capsule review guides like the aforementioned Maltin book will cover the vast majority of releases, Fox appears to merely pick and choose without rhyme or reason. Some essential titles are entirely omitted from the text. On the other hand, Fox does actually pay attention to the early home computers like the Spectrum and Commodore 64, which was a nice surprise.
Fox covers the major titles like Super Mario Bros., Grand Theft Auto and Halo, but said coverage is quite inconsistent. In some instances he will cover every game in a particular series, while in another he will note that sequels exist and say nothing more on the subject.
Space is an obvious issue with the printed word, but the book uses a typefont that’s slightly larger than normal – the author could have fitted a lot more in if he wanted. The reviews are somewhat longer than a typical capsule review compilation and Fox has a tendency to go off on tangents about his personal experiences from when he first played the game. Capsule reviews are meant to be clear and concise – get to the point quickly and move along.
That lack of precision is largely owing to the fact that Fox is not a professional writer – he points out in the text that he’s never commissioned a game review. Undermining oneself in the opening part of your book is a brilliant way to start, but it explains a lot about why the book is the way it is. Fox focuses a lot on his opinion of what it is like to play older games now, rather than evaluating them in comparison to their contemporaries. Oftentimes he will tell the reader to avoid a game, but not elaborate on why they should do so. Consistency never seems to be a priority. The constant references to Fox’s own experience make the book out to be more a compilation of the author’s experiences about the games covered, rather than an authoritative reference.
Capsule review compilations require an authoritative voice to be successful – Maltin may not be as involved in the Movie Guide as he once was, but his name on the front cover gives potential readers a degree of comfort in knowing that the information contained within has merit. This is the main thing that The Video Games Guide lacks. With a more comprehensive coverage, concise and consistent reviews and an authoritative voice, a guide like this could succeed, but you won’t find that here.