For gamers of a certain age, it's easy to forget that while we talk about the Console Wars, SEGA vs Nintendo, or reminisce about short naps while early CD games loaded, younger gamers may have no idea what we're talking about. There are also some franchises that have sketchy or limited recent histories, so therefore their significance may be lost on those that didn't experience their 'golden years'.
101 Video Games to Play Before You Grow Up aims to educate and inspire children stepping into gaming, giving them colourful introductions to notable IPs and titles across six genres - Platformer, Action & Adventure, Sports & Fighting, Role Playing & Strategy, Puzzle & Arcade, and finally Party & Rhythm. As a disclaimer the book's author is Ben Bertoli, who has contributed to Nintendo Life in the past.
The book aims to achieve two things - show young readers a broad range of franchises and give them a brief oversight of what they're all about, and to also tell parents - albeit with subtlety - which games are suitable for their children. Most games and IPs included are suitable for all audiences, but an age rating (taking the ESRB 'range') also gives guardians a useful oversight into which titles may be better suited to near-teens than younger gamers.
Before we get to the positives, and there are plenty, it's worth pointing out that the concept - related to the book's name - is a tad muddled. This isn't a carefully curated list of 101 games, but rather an outline of 101 franchises. It kicks off with Super Mario Bros. - above - but is really addressing the franchise as a whole. In aiming to be succinct and accessible for young readers each entry is kept short - in many cases two to a page - but this can lead to spreading history very thin. So rather than a bucket-list to work through (like an equivalent 'books to read before you die' approach) it's a crash-course in brands and game series.
That's the case most of the time, but there is a little inconsistency - some entries focus on a specific game, plenty don't. As a result the book is a useful jumping off point rather than a comprehensive reference. The positive is that it'll encourage today's web-savvy youngsters to see what grabs them in the book and then research them in detail online.
Taken as that introduction to a world of gaming franchises old and new, it does a very nice job of addressing its audience. The design is clean and colourful, and there are some excellent illustrations to represent each game / IP. It's immediately appealing, either for older children reading themselves or younger gamers perhaps going through it with their parents.
It's also platform and era agnostic, which is important when encouraging young gamers to broaden their horizons. There are the usual Nintendo classics and franchises from the last 30+ years, but we also have a rich range of Sony-focused IPs, and even a cameo or two from the smart device space. Platforms are listed (though not comprehensively where there's not space) to point readers in the right direction, and a number of the franchises will tempt minds curious about the PS1 / PS2 / GameCube and so on. The consoles are only briefly explained, however, so outside of entry-specific pointers readers will certainly gain more with follow-up research.
What the book does well, though, is cut down any idea that games are pigeon-holed for specific audiences or types of players. Beyond the categories there's a freewheeling spirit to drive the message home that playing all 101 IPs / games is beneficial for a full gaming life. For example FIFA and Rocket League are near each other, while Pokémon is just a little before Civilisation. All are presented in the same colourful style, teaching young readers that, as far as is possible, they should sample a broad range of video games.
We reviewed this in a digital form, though it'll be published in print from early October.
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For parents that want their children to embrace and understand the full spectrum of gaming, 101 Video Games to Play Before You Grow Up is well worth consideration. Though it's a broad-strokes introduction to many franchises rather than a curated bucket-list of individual games, its colourful design, enthusiastic writing and witty 'Did You Know' sign-offs all promote the fun and charm of the hobby.
Even for those of us long since grown up, it's also a reminder that there are always more games to try out.