100 Classic Books has had me intrigued since it was first announced. Being the massive bookworm that I am, I’ve been itching to give this a go for a while now. It’s here at last, and the selection on offer is simply fantastic: 22 Shakespeare; 12 Dickens (Charles, not Anthony); 5 Austen; and a couple from Carroll and Wilde to boot! These are just a few of the big hitters off the list, and already I was sold- £20 for all that? What’s there to lose!?
Of course, I am assuming here that you’re interested in the ‘classics’. If you’re looking for some Sci-Fi fantasy, you may be disappointed. Like Ronseal, 100 Classic Books Collection does exactly what it says on the tin. But if the content of this title does appeal to you, read on for a dissection of how reading these works, works.
Upon loading up the game- if you can permit me to call it a game- you’re presented with a menu: Chances are you’ll want to chose ‘Start Reading’- the option that lets you browse all books stored within the cartridge. All the books are lined up horizontally (well, technically vertically, as you hold the DS on its side) across the screen on a virtual bookshelf. Using the touchscreen, you scroll through the books, or navigate through the various search menus that let you whittle down a selection of books based on certain criteria (length, genre, era, rating, author, etc). Each book also has a brief synopsis and an about the author section, which is quite handy when deciding whether or not you'll want to read it.
While there is nothing significantly wrong with how you navigate the books, I cannot but help feel it could have been made slightly more user friendly: For instance; the way the spines of the books are shown makes it easier to look at them while holding the DS upside down; then there are some books that are difficult to find, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea- hard to locate when you can only search for books with the title range of A-Z. I’m left thinking that a little more effort into the navigation might not have gone amiss.
Menu presentation issues asides, what really matters is how the books themselves are presented- are they readable? Well, you’ll be flicking through the pages at quite a fast rate, and the there will be several words hyphenated over two lines due to the constricting dimensions of the DS screen. Some books- especially the Shakespeare plays- are not altogether too easy on the eyes when it comes to their layout, and then you may find that a smaller font option could have been nicer. On the whole though, the text in most books is presented in a legible and concise way, if not as easy to read as is on paper format.
The foremost concern I had about 100 Classic Books Collection was how it would all be for my eyes: On the brightest setting, I found reading to be a bit of an eye-ache after a while- certainly something I could have not kept up for long. Thankfully though, the DS has a good range of brightness settings, and I found that the lowest one was more than sufficient to read by- causing no problems for my eyes, even at night.
Once you’ve settled on your screen brightness, there are a couple of settings that you can tinker around with to customise your reading experience: changing the font size to small or large; choosing some background sound effects (all of which I found distracting); customising the button/touchscreen layout; and changing the reading layout for the DS. These are fairly basic, but I am sure some will find them handy- especially those whose needs require a larger font size.
Other notable features are bookmarks- three per book, very handy- and the Book Guide option, which lets you take a quiz- only a few short questions- and then will recommend you a couple of books based on your answers (I tried it straight away, and was recommended 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea- a book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading). I thought this was quite a neat feature, especially with the overwhelming amount of books present in this title- it sheds part of the burden that is choosing what to read next. The Book Guide also gives you the option to see the rankings and descriptions that other users have given the books- providing, of course, you are connected to Nintendo WFC.
Speaking of the Nintendo WFC: I thought it was quite nifty of HarperCollins to make use of this feature to download new books to the DS cartridge and share rankings and descriptions of books with the rest of the world. However, there are weaknesses that detract from the appeal- namely the fact that you cannot see a synopsis of the book, or any information on the author, before downloading- I find this to be a bit of a nuisance really. And then you have the rakings: You can score a book out of 10 once you’ve read it, and then assign it a keyword, but nothing else- no detailed reviews, no discussions. This is understandably due to limitations of the DS, but it still makes the rankings a shallow and hollow feature.
When it gets down to it, 100 Classic Books Collection is well worth the investment if you’re interested in the titles contained within. I found there to be a few nuances with the presentation, and some of the books do not have a great layout, but on the whole, it works well. Sure, it’ll never match that feeling of pride you have in a well-worn, loved-up, book. But what you do get here is the choice of 100 books, all on a small, backlit, machine. For me, this is a trade-off I can happily accept. And hell, it is a lot less irritating for partners than bedside lamps are!