The company that I feel has contributed the most to video game books is Boss Fight Books. Each of their books brings something unique. The books that I like are the ones that don’t focus on just the game. They talk about how the game affected the author, what the game means to them, specific moments in their lives, and the people who made the game.
It’s hard to generalize these books because they’re all different. I like them for various reasons; the books are formatted differently, and some lean more towards history than a personal story. I find the books about the author’s experience with the games to be the best. Some history books can be a bit boring, and I already have many books about the industry.
There is something that pulls me in when I read these books. Some of them directly bring up nostalgia, while others make me think about similar things in my life. The stories in these books make me think back to when I would play games with my friends, when I was just a little kid playing the NES, or when I was collecting retro games, or those late Friday nights with my best friend Drew playing whatever we rented after school.
These aren’t going to be in any order. I think each of them does something different, and they stand out from the rest of their books published by Boss Fight Books.
Galaga by Michael Kimball
There is a charm to this book that I really love! The formatting is a little odd, but it makes sense once you figure out what Michael is doing. Each section represents one of the screens in Galaga, all the way up to the kill screen at the end. He also talks about Galaga in pop culture, creative projects involving the game, and jokes about possible hacks and real hacks. That part was a little strange, but I eventually found myself chuckling at them.
If you look at the reviews for this book, you’ll see some tricky things. I think it’s because of how early this was for Boss Fight Books. They were setting up something, and at first, people thought these books would be all about the game. Instead, you would get a personal story about the game and maybe some facts about it. If Galaga had been published now, I think it would have been received better.
Michael tells a lot of personal stories in this book. Arcades played a considerable role in his early life, and they were an escape for him. He came from an abusive family, and the arcade was where he could forget about what was happening at home. Galaga, and Galaxian, were the arcade games he played the most. He also mentions Galpus, which I didn’t know before reading this.
Most of the book is about Galaga. He talks about how he built friendships around the game, how he started talking to more people, and on one funny note, he talks about how his mom was worried that getting a home console would make Michael less social.
There are a lot of tips on playing Galaga in the book. He also shares some of his frustrations with the different ports of the game. It was apparent that he loved the game and knew an awful lot about it. Michael also brings up one bit of history that I found fascinating. He talks about how popular Galaga was and how Namco converted some Bosconian cabinets into Galaga cabinets. This explains why there are some variants in the cabinet design.
It’s a short book. It’s about an arcade game, after all, and there is only so much you can say about it. I think this is an excellent book. It’s one of the more charming books, and Michael’s love of the game made it so much better.
Mega Man 3 by Salvatore Pane
This was one that I related to. While Salvatore talks about the Mega Man series, the people who made it, and how the team was turned over a few times, the part I found the most interesting was when he would talk about retro game collecting. Every retro game collector has some version of the story that he tells us. The game might be different, but the experiences he talks about are common for many people who collect retro games.
The story about his life resonated with me. I think it was because we’re the same age and both collected games around the same time. This was when NES, SNES, and Genesis/Mega Drive games were dirt cheap for the most part. There were some expensive games, but they were much more affordable than now.
The book is focused on Mega Man 3, and Salvatore walks us through the game as he tells his story. However, he also talks about the other games in the Mega Man series and the developers who worked on the first two games and left. This part brings us to the game Cocoron and how the former Mega Man developers made it. This was just a footnote in the main story. It was a fascinating footnote.
His talk about nostalgia is the best part of the book. Especially when he talks about game collecting. The rising prices of retro games are the parts of the book that got me. I didn’t notice it until the early 2010s when I started to look for games again. It was a little alarming to me when I looked at the price charting sites. I noticed that Metal Storm was over one hundred dollars! I had bought the game for around five dollars. Earthbound was another game that skyrocketed in price, going from the thirty dollars I bought it.
Salvatore includes parts of an interview with James Rolfe, the Angry Video Game Nerd, and I found these to be a great addition. They backed up what Salvatore was talking about. He ties nostalgia to YouTube and the retro gaming channels. You can see a rise in the prices of video games because of YouTube. I don’t think it was intentional. These were just people who wanted to share their hobby, for the most part.
I don’t have anything bad to say about this book. Salvatore told a great story. It made me think about why I care about retro games and what will happen to my collection as I get older.
Shadow of the Colossus by Nick Suttner
Reading this book made me want to play the game. I missed out on Shadow of the Colossus when it came out, and I didn’t think about it until a few years ago. Hearing other people talk about it got me interested enough to want to know more. When I stumbled across Nick’s book, I decided to buy it, and it was well worth the money!
Nick goes through the story of the game’s development, and it reminds me of Katamari Damaci. There are a lot of parallels between the two games. At the time, these two broke away from the industry’s direction. They weren’t action games. Shadow of the Colossus was more about getting immersed in the game’s world. It was about a story, and it did an excellent job of letting you fill in some of the gaps in the story.
There is a lot of talk about the game’s scope, how empty the world is, and how little is explained to the player. You only see a small portion of this world, and that portion is full of ruins and strange monsters. You never learn what happened here, what led it to be sealed off, who the big bad guy is, or how long ago all of this happened.
The in-game world of Shadow of the Colossus is vast. However, the player doesn’t see all of it and doesn’t have the chance to see all of it. Even with the previous game, Ico, the player will never see what is going on in this world, what these people are like, how it is set up, and every other question you might have won’t be answered. That’s part of the fun, though! You can make your own story, create your history, and make your own experience.
Nick does walk you through the game. He explains how each of the bosses moves, how they can be beaten, describes the area each boss can be found in, and talks about how the fights make him feel. There is a sense that you’re not doing the right thing. Your character is being selfish. While he is trying to bring his wife/girlfriend/insert whatever you want back to life, you seem to be releasing some sort of evil. You also don’t know if what you’re doing will help unless you have played through the game already.
The way he talks about the game makes you want to play it. At least it made me want to play it. This is one of the books I would point people to if they wanted to know what video games can mean. It’s that good!
NBA Jam by Reyan Ali
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t think I wanted a book about NBA Jam. I also didn’t know it was an arcade game because I didn’t experience it in the arcades. I played NBA Jam on the Sega Genesis. There is something about the game that makes it so good. It’s basketball, but that doesn’t explain why this version of the sport is compelling.
In this Book, Reyan goes over the history of the game and Midway. If I could point to one thing I learned, it would be that NBA Jam had a lot of spin-offs and spiritual successors. I think this was a dumb move by Midway. Instead of calling them NBA Jam II through whatever, they had to create new names and then add the year to them.
He also talks about the other sports games in the same genre as NBA Jam. These include the Blitz games. Both NFL and NHL received games in the same arcade style and less emphasis on the game’s rules. I still think the Mutant League games were better than these, but oh well.
One of the many stories in the book is about Mark Trumell. It goes over how he grew up and got into video games. It’s like other stories that I have heard of the programmers in the 80s. Mark’s is one of those non-traditional paths, and it seems like it was closer to the British computer scene. The early days of video games and the third-party developers.
The book then talks about the technology, and the direction Midway was going. Specifically, we get into Smash T.V. and Mortal Kombat. I think Mortal Kombat is a bit more important, but the stories of Smash T.V. are interesting on their own. We also get some stories on the relationship between Midway and Acclaim. Midway, which has its roots in pinball, was more focused on arcade machines, so they licensed their games to Acclaim for home console ports. The video game industry is weird.
There is a lot of history in this book. It brought up many memories of playing NBA Jam with my friends. Specifically, it brought me back to the Blockbuster World Championships. I remember going over to my friend’s houses to play NBA Jam because I didn’t own a Genesis at the time. I didn’t do well in the tournament, by the way.
Resident Evil by Philip J. Reed
If you’re a fan of the first Resident Evil, this is the book for you. It gives you a history of the game, the survival horror genre, and Phillip’s memories about both. This book does what many of the excellent Boss Fight Books do, which makes me think back to when I played video games with my friends. Phillip even describes something that many kids probably did back in the 90s. Go over to a friend’s house on the weekend and spend the night playing a video game with your friends.
There are moments in this book where Phillip uses the game to talk about his own experiences, horror game history, the psychology of horror, and other things. He brings up horror movies a lot as well. This also took me back. I kept thinking about how I found horror movies. He also brought up how horror changes over time. The first time you experience something, it can be scary, but the horror becomes less scary every time after that.
He talks about one of his first experiences with a survival horror game. It was Alone in the Dark, which he played in a computer store first. On a side note, this is something I remember doing at Best Buy. They had all these computers out, and you could mess around with them. I remember playing all kinds of weird games on them. I think one was Comics Zone, but I don’t remember any of the other ones. Many people probably played games by going to computer shops or toy stores. It’s fun to read each person’s experiences with games and see how similar or different they are to yours.
I got from Phillip talking about Alone in the Dark, and other games, how they created some tropes that would be refined later by Resident Evil and Silent Hill. A lot of other games get mentioned. As I looked at them, I could see how each one was refined in either Resident Evil or Silent hill. It was interesting to see which ones were mentioned and which games were left out. Phillip couldn’t mention them all because it could have taken up the entire book.
The section on the FMV scenes and the voice actors were very interesting. He covers why the dialogue was so weird, how the FMV was shot, and the decisions behind some of what happened. Phillip did interviews with the voice actors. It was probably the most interesting part for me. I had fallen down this rabbit hole a few times, and to see a lot of the questions I had being answered here was great!
This is a spectacular book! I love how he uses other forms of media, like movies, to help explain horror in video games. It has everything I want from the Boss Fight Book series.
These are the five books from Boss Fight Books that I enjoyed the most. Each of them stood out to me. I’ve read about 20 of the 28 books they have put out, and I think these are the best ones. If you’re looking for a new book or an entry point into what Boss Fight Books offer, then any of these would be a great starting point!