Friday 9 July 2021

The Unofficial SNES Pixel Book Review

For a fair while now Bitmap books have been producing a whole host of homages and call backs to magical days of retro gaming. With that in mind we thought it was probably time that we started to take a closer look and start to review some of these titles. The first on our list is this love letter to Super Nintendo graphics and what a special book it is.

To start with it’s fair to say that even by hardback coffee book standards this is both large and a very strange shape. But, it works. The 272 pages are set out in the dimensions of 250mm × 250mm and it just seems to be the perfect size to portray these pixel graphics to their fullest and most impressive. The books outer cover is solid and colourful and gives you every confidence that it will protect its precious cargo while also adding an air of grandiosity and ceremony to the book held within it. As a lesson on how to give a good first impression this is a masterclass.

Once you’ve finished marvelling at the impressive cover you are welcomed to the world of 16-bit pixels by a well written introduction and explanation as to how the book has been laid out. In this case the games are set out into genres based on their defining characteristics such as platform games, shooting games, adventures etc. It’s presented in a fun and cohesively clear way that makes navigating to your favourite easy while also leading readers to similar games that they may not have heard of or know little about.

The main focus here though is the glorious pixel graphics of the era. Though there are detailed summaries and explanations throughout the book to do with everything from various genres to different types of adventure game bosses, most of the individual games are restricted to single sentences or small paragraphs at best. One particularly striking image from Pocky and Rocky simply states ‘Destroyer of Rice Balls’ above it for instance. This is of course to showcase the art work in its best possible way but once you have had your interest peaked by a particular title it’s likely you’ll have to look elsewhere to really get the information on it.

That said, if you want an introduction into the world of 16-bit games in terms of mechanics and styles this certainly is covered. For instance, the adventure game section takes time to discuss core elements of games viewed from different perspectives (top-down, isometric etc.), while the RPG section talks about menu systems and inventories. This is a really unique take and something you don’t normally see in these sorts of books. In that sense it really does help you to understand core mechanics of a lot of these genres and games.

When there is text it is entertaining, insightful and well worth reading. The way the book is written really seems to highlight things that we may have all noticed but not necessarily thought about in the way it talks about them. The analysis present is easy to follow, logical and something that genuinely informed us and peaked our curiosity to learn more. It’s excellent work and you can tell it’s been well thought about and written with both passion and detail imbued within it.

Overall, The Unofficial SNES Pixel Book is incredibly impressive. We’ve played a lot of games on the SNES over the years but this has managed to get us to think about them in a completely different way and notice details we have overlooked many times. It’s a remarkable achievement in all areas of design and writing and we can’t think of anything really that would have improved it. We can’t recommend it enough and anyone interested in design, style and mechanics of these classic titles won’t be disappointed. It’s also got Shadowrun and Hagane in it so what’s not to like?


*Original photo Bitmap books.

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